February 8, 2007


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The Shins, Wincing the Night Away
Sub-Pop, 2007

If one is to believe the majority of reviews for Wincing the Night Away, the third LP by indie-rock darlings The Shins, the 2004 film Garden State ruined everything for the band. You see, that movie features The Shins prominently in its soundtrack, and one scene even finds a character espousing the band’s greatness to that dorky guy from Scrubs. This newfound exposure proved detrimental to The Shins because now they are no longer a well-kept indie-rock secret. Thanks to Garden State more people are now cognizant of The Shins’ music, and the film might even have prompted some to (gasp!) buy their records. Clearly, the band is doomed.

As a result, Wincing the Night Away feels more insular and standoffish than 2003’s Chutes too Narrow, with darker, moodier lyrics. Singer/guitarist James Mercer sums up the band’s frustrations on “Sea Legs,” with the unfortunately melodramatic line, “You belong to a simpler time/I’m a victim to the impact of these words/And this rhyme.” Ugh.

As it is, the trip-hop inflected “Sea Legs” is one of the few satisfying tunes on Wincing. “Sleeping Lessons” floats along aimlessly with strings and echo-y vocals; the cheery chimes and lush acoustics of “Red Rabbits” makes it sound like a late Christmas carol; “Black Wave” and “Pam Berry” are too short and underdeveloped to truly be considered songs and “Turn on Me” is a bitter send-off to an unfaithful lover — the sort of simplistic tune I always thought Mercer was above writing. Only “Phantom Limb,” the record’s first single, truly resonates and that’s probably because it’s little more than an edgier version of The Shins’ biggest hit to date, “New Slang.”

To be certain, Mercer can craft some splendid melodies and pop hooks when the mood strikes him. Unfortunately he’s sacrificed his pop instincts for a record that is bland, tepid and, frankly, not all that different from anything else on Clear Channel FM. C+ — Adam Marletta