Music Reviews
Wincing the Night Away

The Shins Wincing the Night Away

(Sub Pop) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

We no longer live within the flat blue-sky backdrop (adorned with bobbing flora) within which The Shins were exposed to us back in 2001. There was a time when Oh, Inverted World drifted through our lives with the grace of a delicate weather forecast; but first the kiss, then the bang: Zach Braff, New Jersey, Natalie Portman, "this song will change your life." Soon the whole world was suffering mass hypochondria about dirt in their fries. With such a history, you gotta give it to the boys for releasing a single that merely toys with the concept of a chorus (especially after being exposed to Dashboard in close proximity). Phantom Limb would tease any summer day with its cryptic and ironic lyricisms, and Mercer's quirky applications of the functional world are of no shortage throughout the new album's mercurial grace.

We no longer live within the flat blue-sky backdrop (adorned with bobbing flora) within which The Shins were exposed to us back in 2001. There was a time when Oh, Inverted World drifted through our lives with the grace of a delicate weather forecast; but first the kiss, then the bang: Zach Braff, New Jersey, Natalie Portman, "this song will change your life." Soon the whole world was suffering mass hypochondria about dirt in their fries.

With such a history, you gotta give it to the boys for releasing a single that merely toys with the concept of a chorus (especially after being exposed to Dashboard in close proximity). Phantom Limb would tease any summer day with its cryptic and ironic lyricisms, and Mercer's quirky applications of the functional world are of no shortage throughout the new album's mercurial grace.

Yes, these Albuquerque lads have made quite the transition from their last effort, whether conscious or not. Phil Ek's step down from his role as production frontrunner on Chutes Too Narrow is no subtle alteration. Just as the album art of Chutes Too Narrow proved to be a caricature for its buoyant and frivolous melodies, the album's overt hooks and underdeveloped depth proved to be an insipid compression of The Shins capabilities.

But on Wincing the Night Away, Mercer has stepped up to the production plate once again (this time with the assistance of long time music engineer Joe Chicarelli). And just as The Shins have seemed to rediscover their effervescent nonchalance, their pop melancholy has once again been guilefully enraptured. Right from the synth scale that beams into the opening track Sleeping Lessons, the ardent layers of Oh, Inverted World start flooding back.

Post the opening basketball-dribble-gymnasium-echo (they now hold a whistle, 'woo' and dribble to their list of album instigators), Sleeping Lessons starts out with a casual strut before racing to collect instruments and momentum. As Mercer relates flora to fauna with lyrics akin to Dali's art, the drums bop along to a capricious guitar that foreshadow the album's perpetually fresh trajectory. Approaching its most sublime decadence around Sea Legs, the comprehensive track interweaves (in order of appearance): record pops, MIDI tricks, guitar, bass, (a cymbal flourish), orchestral lines, air flute keys, (woos from Mercer), and then, the lyrical upstart. By the last half of the song's seismic yet serene meddling, it sounds like the band has flown off to visit Yoshimi for coffee.

The trajectory ferociously continues. By Red Rabbits, the band seems to be on the sea floor with Mark Mothersbaugh discussing The Life Aquatic. With lush violin and slide guitar, it seems fit for the next adaptation in the lullaby Radiohead-Cure-Tool series, though I'd really hate to hear it void of Mercer's contributions: "I still owe you for the hole in the floor/and the ghost in the hall." The drifty underwater grace inherent in its elusive borders bloom once again on Girl Sailor, laced with endless, gentle ripples and murky disclosures.

Australia it the obvious ulterior single, holding all the more validity by having not been opted for the airwaves. This song treads water with sprightly endurance, erratic vocals and playful drums, accentuated by flirtatious guitar and the occasional brevity of banjo. Spilt Needles pours in with a downward urgency, heartfelt yet wry, parading one of the tightest and overtly demanding drum parts Jesse Sandoval has ever put forth. The keys soar over with a rich expanse for their space before the mood flicks to benign at the breadth of a single chord. The Comet Appears doesn't toy with its amiable affair, swimming in with chirping birds and intimate acoustic nakedness, signing the album off in a quiet denouement.

Laced with hidden subtleties, everything on Wincing the Night Away is driven by a vibrant yet effortless cohesion. The album's layer cake brightens with every listen, and its brisk whims make the album resonate as the natural ascendant to Oh, Inverted World. Yes, they've fared well.