US - Oregon - Full Moon 127 - 02/02/07
Wincing The Night Away
Sub Pop Records
The pivotal secrets of the Shins success did not include merely engaging the imagination of Zach Braff. Just like the generation that was swept away by R.E.M.'s Murmur, anyone today can be attracted to how so fantastically not great the Shins are. They warrant the possibility of so many titles of brit-rock reincarnation (the new Kinks, the new Smiths, the revival of early Who etc.) and at the same time their best music is so tremendously underwhelming. "Kissing the Lipless" is arguably their loudest, most rampageous song and stands decibels behind any art punk fixations epitomizing the entirety of indie surrounding them. Most important, this band knows how to grab attention without resorting to groove or riff ideology. The songs crafted by central writer John Mercer pivotally depend on his deliciously intrepid non sequiturs leaping gallantly in colorful melodic strides from shining verse to shining chorus.
Wincing the Night Away from its first seconds prides itself on not being sun shiny, or as sun shiny as Chutes Too Narrow. The muffled, rippling synthesizer froth and Mercer's digitally overworked vocal introduces "Sleeping Lessons" as what everyone today really wants: shiny, anti-blues, and anti-soul that bears the insecure and inane confession. His voice flutters from octave to octave, as the band jets from the echoing the Bunnymen to the ever revisited strumming of The Strokes "Last Night".
"Australia" is the cream of the cherubic, folk-y here-even far outplaying their exhaustedly publicized first single, "Phantom Limb". More than any previous ventures, they wear their most blatant folk rock arrangements right on their sleeves. Various choruses and breaks scattered ("Turn on Me", "Girl Sailor") on Wincing... sound even more struck from the Byrds than entire R.E.M. songs only instead of getting creepy with mandolins the Shins get jolly and delighted with banjos.
Half way through they truly defy their pop dogma instead of just adding frosting. "Red Rabbit" is a Chutes... solo acoustic track converted into a gentle blossom of thematic synth and layered cake of percussion. Even more impressive is how they get 90s boy band back beats and Nick Drake string sections to coexist on the superb "Sea Legs". Simultaneously it's a disheartening to remember that pop radio probably won't be hopelessly flooded with this recipe for another ten years, no matter how many teen converts were enlightened by the Garden State soundtrack.
Lop-sidedness keeps this record from fulfilling the third album mythology that a band as smart and assiduous as the Shins rightfully deserves to. Mercer softens up the albums back half with poetic solo songs for a nice easy landing, and it's says something about this band's ultimate lacking sense of adventure. Yes, there's a different sound on Wincing but there's no consistent change in method. Nor is there a departure in the philosophy of flow: like Chutes... the guitars are in the front, soft solo folk in the back.
No need to fret, fair readers! There are blessings to count: The Shins finally sound identifiable and Wincing... elevates their status to a truly great pop band... that took their time squeezing out a pretty good follow up.
Copyright © 2007 Matthew DeMello