Release Date: Jan 23, 2007
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
"The Shins will change your life!" That kind of proclamation is loaded with expectations when it's just one friend talking up a band to another, but it's magnified a thousandfold when Natalie Portman says it in a hit movie. The band's popularity was already growing steadily with each album they released, but Garden State took them to another level entirely -- if anyone's life was changed by that praise-filled cameo, it was the Shins'. The expectations and pressure that the Garden State effect brought could've been too much for any band, especially a delicate, wistful one like the Shins.
”You belong to a simpler time/I’m a victim to the impact of these words/And this rhyme,” sings Shins frontman/songwriter James Mercer on Wincing the Night Away, sounding distinctly burdened and world-weary. It’s one of the least attractive postures in pop — woe is me, the fans are hanging on my every word — but if anyone is entitled to it, it’s Mercer and his bandmates. Over the past five years, the Shins have found themselves transformed from a little cult band to million-selling indie-rock icons.
Now in his late 30s, Shins frontman James Mercer is caught in a nostalgic moment. His band's third album is practically a homage to the jangling, melancholy British music he fell in love with as a teenager: ghosts of Smiths and Cure songs shiver through the melodies, while on Phantom Limb and Sea Legs, Mercer could be using the Morrissey setting on a voice adapter, so accurately does he replicate those distinctive vocal trills and sighs. Not all of the album could have been recorded 20 years ago: the space-age gloops snagging at the chords in Sleeping Lessons and Red Rabbits, and the jagged doctored guitar in Split Needles, bring the sound up to date.
To these ears, The Shins' much-hyped 2001 debut, Oh, Inverted World, was boring music played by bored-sounding people - a Beach Boys-like pop record without any of the obvious joy with which the Beach Boys played and sang. With the follow-up Chutes Too Narrow, though, The Shins brought frontman James Mercer's voice into focus, added some welcome twists to his rollercoaster melodies, and sharpened the details of their arrangements. Chutes Too Narrow was just a step in the direction of Wincing the Night Away, which brings The Shins to a crossroads.
A lot can happen in an evening. Wincing the Night Away, for one, rewrites Shinsian history. The crystal-cut pop of the Portland, Ore., quartet's 2001 debut, Oh, Inverted World, and its exuberant follow-up two years later, Chutes Too Narrow, helped define the new millennial revolution reversing the roles of indie and major labels. Wincing the Night Away makes both albums sound like fragmented potential.