Few are going to discover The Shins through this blog, so persuasive circumstances must be afoot as to why I’m choosing to write about the band’s newest, Wincing the Night Away. Most who follow music enough to know about this site (and know the right people to know this blog) have likely been hearing and reading about The Shins for years, and already formed an opinion. Thanks to Garden State too, they’re expected to change your life. The reason I’m writing is that Wincing is unexpectedly the band’s finest hour, and represents the four-piece’s ascension from indie pop to popular music writ large, in the vein of the best music groups of the last two decades. This is the most beautiful album by a rock band since R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People. I never expected such an album from The Shins. It’s beautifully performed, beautifully recorded, and beautifully produced. It sounds sublime through earphones, but really deserves a full stereo, at it’s highest, neighbor-friendly volume. Still, your neighbors deserve some kulture. The transformation of lead singer James Mercer’s voice is reminiscent of what took Michael Stipe of R.E.M. nearly a decade, to go from reluctant, star-crossed lead singer to confident crooner. At the band’s sold out performance in Denver at the Fillmore, Mercer even confidently took the mic between songs, sending the outspoken, often annoying, keyboardist Marty Crandell to the back of the stage. Amen. The band’s performance was also as beautiful as this album.
The Shins’ second album, Chutes too Narrow, was fine by my standards, although I found it a bit muddled in parts. I thought “Gone For Good,” was one of the band’s finest moments, an album track I could listen to repeatedly for hours as its melodies happily pitter-pattered through my head. Wincing is a near album’s worth of such beautiful, jaunty pop perfections. The opening vocals of “Red Rabbits,” following its 50s-esque opening beats, is splendid and moving. Mercer’s confidence is clear, and his poetic lyrics, as usual, are among the best today: “Hurled to the center of the Earth again/The place where it’s hot, love/You know, it hurts to breathe in/And the watershed you balance on is begging it/Well did he ever know/Will he ever know?”
If you’ve passed on The Shins thus far, I think now is the time to revisit our indie friends, who have produced such an astonishing album amid intense and unfair media expectations. Blame Natalie and her big headphones. I mostly thought the album could only disappoint, after the band appeared on the cover of every music magazine I subscribe to for months. Instead, a month since its release, I’m still slackjawed and ready to turn the volume up a little louder–it will still sound beautiful.