Monday, January 22

Album Review: The Shins

“Wincing the Night Away”
Sub Pop; 2007

It’s been just about three years since everyone’s last heard of the Shins. Since their last record, “Chutes Too Narrow,” they got a pretty big boost in popularity thanks Natalie Portman and “Garden State,” which probably placed a huge amount of pressure on the band to not release a dud. And did they release a dud with “Wincing the Night Away”? Well, most people seem to think so. I keep hearing that it sucks, it’s too different, or some combination of the two. I, however, happen to enjoy the album and find it a pleasant departure from the norm.

So what’s different? Well, the production this time around is very clean and very slick, which gives a crispness to the band’s sound that was not there in prior albums. This is really the only major change that’s apparent, which is most likely a result of their newfound popularity. Also, nothing in the Shins’ previous repertoire quite adds up to it in terms of the volume of sound. It seems the band has gotten more comfortable and confident of itself, and they are willing to experiment with new ideas. “Sleeping Lessons,” acts as an amazing opener, with water-like keyboards, sweet melodies, and eventually full band crescendo featuring brilliant guitar work. “Sea Legs” is a pretty syncopated, groove-oriented song with some strings that isn’t your typical Shins. “Split Needles” is also very beat-driven, with a nice, heavy, confident drum sound. They were so heavily guitar driven before—this song is actually the first time I realized the Shins had a drummer that can take command of the band.

Yet, overall the album still maintains that same Shins-quality that is apparent with their other two albums. “Phantom Limb,” the single, is perhaps their most straight ahead track on the album, and the one that harks back at their old sound the most. It’s pretty damn catchy too. And then there’s “Red Rabbits,” where the sweet vocal melodies and ambiance just seem very familiar and friendly. And the little time signature change in the chorus? Wonderful. There are a few forgettable tracks though. “Black Wave” just goes nowhere for 3 minutes, “Sea Legs” feels like it wears out its welcome midway through, and “Girl Sailor” sounds a little too much like a New Pornographers song for some reason.

In the end, I feel that The Shins made the right choice. They were going into a lose-lose situation with this third album. I have a feeling that if they maintained their trademark production and sound, critics and fans would quickly grow tired of it and demand change. But really, I don’t need another album that’s just a slightly-below-par version of “Oh, Inverted World.” And now, since the group decided to make a few changes here and there—all pretty much cosmetic, of course, since the heart of their sound still remains intact—critics and fans dislike the new direction. Well, don’t believe what you’re hearing. Listen to this album and try it out for yourself. You just might find something that’s pretty damn cool.

Since the album hasn’t released yet, we can’t post any mp3s, but you can download “Phantom Limbs” from the Sub Pop website by right-clicking here and saving the linked file to your computer. Be sure to pick up a copy when it hits stores tomorrow.

- John Higgins -

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