The Shins | Wincing the Night Away (Sub Pop)

shinsWe ultimately benefit in that this Shins record, more than any before, ceaselessly moves from one mood to the next, blending darkened optimism with the glaring shadows of Mercer's lyrics, allowing the group's omnipresent sing-along ability to withstand the attention of casual enthusiasts alongside repeat listeners.

 

It's time to shun the sidecar again, put away your Desert Storm trading cards, and brace for the highly, highly anticipated new release from the Shins, their final under current label Sub Pop Records. Okay, that's it for the Braffian references, as these Northwesterners are much more than a pop culture subsidiary. The fourth full-length album (one was under Flake Music) from James Mercer, Martin Crandall, Dave Hernandez, and Jesse Sandoval is sleeplessly titled Wincing the Night Away, and features familiar reverbs, textures, and melodic sensibilities to fans of the indie rockers, yet is expansive beyond their former, well-loved efforts.

While sure to ostracize a fair number of indie purists (i.e., snobs), Wincing adopts the wait-and-adapt method of production for bands that finally have the luxury of doing so, resulting in a crisper record intent on growth. The sound is bold, cohesive, and smoothly affecting, yet enigmatic, like a lucid dream. We ultimately benefit in that this Shins record, more than any before, ceaselessly moves from one mood to the next, blending darkened optimism with the glaring shadows of Mercer's lyrics, allowing the group's omnipresent sing-along ability to withstand the attention of casual enthusiasts alongside repeat listeners. Yes, this album will most likely render the Shins as less indie (whatever that means in the grand scheme), but it is decidedly identifiable as the sound that is their own, and even more determined as an expression of the space that the band (specifically Mercer) currently occupies. This space, it seems, is at times psychedelic, achingly warm, brazenly disturbed, and dare I say, independent in its voice.

Wincing the Night Away begins with the appropriately titled "Sleeping Lessons," an echoing cascade of raindrop keys introducing Mercer's grainy, high-pitched lilt. Emotions reach an early zenith as the singer's shriek advises his listener to "eviscerate your fragile frame/ and spill it out on the ragged floor." What follows is the first of several new steps for the Shins, with a plucky build crashing into a rough, upbeat, highly danceable second half reminiscent of the Arcade Fire's "Une Annee Sans Lumiere," but serving more as a unifier. Pop perfection is achieved with the lyrically un-poppy "Australia," a clever lamentation of self-restrictions, with Mercer's satisfying resolve daring you not to be sucked in.

The album's first single is "Phantom Limb," an obvious choice due to its overly catchy wordless chorus, yet once again the wordplay of the verses is stunning in its poetics, tracing the frozen, inhibiting nature of small-town life on two female lovers. Further highlights include the mild whimsy of "Red Rabbits," the destabilizing breeze of "Split Needles," and the eerie calm of "A Comet Appears" (a disquieting closer: think "New Slang" meets "Those to Come").

The Shins seem to be losing some of their musical timidity on their newest release, and perhaps that was a relatable aspect on their previous albums. However, exploding popularity aside, the band is making distinct strides without compromising its personal intent. Wincing the Night Away is an album whose significance requires multiple listens to fully appreciate, and the most noticeable difference (for you Shins worriers) is Mercer's confidence in his own abilities. New chops, same slang. A- (the minus is for album low point "Sea Legs") | Dave Jasmon

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