on February 18, 2007
Once again, the Shins have put out another fantastic album. While Chutes Too Narrow (their last album before this) took a more stripped-down approach to songwriting and producing, Wincing the Night Away has more in common with Oh, Inverted World, their first album, as far as instrumentation goes. Gone are the simple sonorities are Chutes Too Narrow, and back again are the lush, full sounds of songs like Caring is Creepy, from Oh, Inverted World. This album is, however, different from that one in that they stretch their sound and try more experimental things. Sometimes, this is very overt, such as on the hip-hop inspired Sea Legs. But even on the songs that sound like classic Shins (such as Turn On Me), there is a fuller, more spacious sound.
The lyrics on this album are far more ambitious than anything on either of the Shins' other two albums. Gone are the simple, unaffected love songs of Chutes Too Narrow (for example, "You want to fight for this love,/But honey, you cannot wrestle a dove"). They are replaced by more complex love songs, and more philosophical songs about human nature that we caught a glimpse of on So Says I. Some of Mercer's simple verses on the nature of humanity can be overwhelmingly beautiful. On "A Comet Appears" (the obligatory soft track at the end of the album, and perhaps this disc's best song), Mercer muses "Every post that you can hitch your faith on is a pie in the sky, chock full of lies, a tool we devised to make sinking stones fly." On Sleeping Lessons, the opening track, Mercer preaches "And if the old guard still offends, they've got nothing left on which we depend, so enlist every ounce of your bright blood and off with their heads." While the lyrics on this album still retain the awkward charm and absolute beauty of those on previous albums, Mercer has moved on to much more heavy subject matter and, for the most part, succeeded.
This album is absolutely up to par with previous Shins albums, and while it may not have quite the charm or beauty in simplicity which Chutes Too Narrow posess in spades, it makes up for it with an evolving sound and more mature lyrics. Hopefully, this album will be a good stepping stone to another great, and even more different, album, but on it's own, it is very, very good. Sleeping lessons, Phantom Limb, and A Comet appears are absolutely some of the best Shins tracks yet. Highly recommended to anyone who loved their first two albums (they are changing in a good way!), and also to those who didn't like their first two (it is more mature, less cutesy, and more overblown, which I can't see as being a good thing, but if you can't appreciate the beautiful understatedness of Chutes Too Narrow, I guess that's the only thing I can say that will make you give them a shot).
on March 16, 2007
Oh no! They didn't produce the exact same records that the previous efforts were. They don't sound like "Oh, Inverted World," and "Chutes Too Narrow," they're not "indie" enough on this record, and Wah Wah Wah. Well guess what; If Pink Floyd didn't evolve, we would have been stuck with "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" for 20 years instead of being treated to "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Wish You Were Here." The Beatles would have never achieved Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road and Let it Be. Newsflash to those whose heads are fastened securely up their bums. The mark of a great band is the ability to musically GROW. The first 2 albums were fun to listen to and were catchy, but this album is musically miles and miles ahead of them. Phantom Limbs has so much going on in it, it's almost hard to describe, let alone the relentless building to a crescendo. Sleeping Lessons? Such an arpeggio to open an album would have been unheard of for the other records. The use of what I think is a steel drum on Red Rabbits is pure genius. Another reviewer had it pretty much dead on. It is almost impossible to hate this album. I find this to be their best work. OOOOOOOOOOOOh I'm not cool.. I don't rate the first 2 as highly as this. It takes a bit more thought to "get" this album, but, that's how I like it. The use of several elements to produce one amazing song is the mark of talent. These guys have it while so many others pretend to. If you want the straight forward fluff, go listen to "New Hot Chick With No Musical Ability #53."
on December 18, 2007
On this fulfilling and masterful album, The Shins have written and produced some of the most capricious, playful, and delicious melodies anyone has written in years. I cannot easily recall the last time I heard melodies this fun, with notes so varied yet perfectly seamed and intertwined. I liked The Shins before Wincing the Night Away. Now I love them.
It took listening to the album about five times before I fell in love with it, so if your ears react like mine give it a chance. At first it will seem all over the place.
All songs are great and two are brilliant:
1- Sleeping Lessons - Melodically, one of the most original songs ever written. Incredible!
2- Turn on Me - Currently, one of those hidden pop gems like Erasure's "A Little Respect", that was mostly unknown in 1988 (when released), was never a big hit anywhere, but everyone heard it and loved it years later as if it had been a huge hit. In Turn on Me's case, I hope it remains a hidden gem. With today's one-sided radio trend, I am almost certain it will remain relatively unknown to the world --- Great for all of us who would prefer not to have it overplayed like A Little Respect was.
If I were forced to compare the songs on this album to other artists, I would compare them to The Smiths/Morrisey in a more playful and joyful way, and Erasure in a more honest/down-to-earth/grass-rooted way, and much less "fabricated for appeal" way.
I love this album! I have no doubt it will be on my Top 5 albums of 2008.
on June 16, 2007
Listening to The Shins' album, Wincing The Night Away, is like falling into an oceanic daydream. The music is sleepy, the lyrics are poetic, and the sound is rich and harmonious.
The album cover depicts organisms that have tentacles and baleen mouths, revealing the ocean theme that lies beneath. The song titles such as Sea Legs and Girl Sailor suggest an ocean-exploration theme. The music is rich, but quiet and understated. It is often unclear which instruments are being used, which gives the songs a mysterious feel, like being in a dream.
The music is set up to provide a kind of dreamlike state and is complimented by James Mercer's voice, which has an uncanny similarity to The Cure's Robert Smith's. The first track, Sleeping Lessons, draws the listener in with harmonies coming from what sounds like a synthesized, muted, echoing vibraphone. Then, with about a minute left in the song, the music gets rolling and guitar and drums enter, setting course for what's to come. Pam Berry, a kind of interlude, uses a softened surf guitar that conjures images of surf rock and beaches and enhances the album's ocean theme. Phantom Limb, the hit single, has a stronger beat than the others, using drums, bass and even guitar strums to pronounce it. The final track, A Comet Appears, ends the album on a soft note, and sounds like something Simon and Garfunkel would play. The twangy background sounds were made by a hammered dulcimer and a bouzouki. Even a French horn is featured in the song.
The album's lyrics are poetic, but obscure. And just as dreams hide the deeper meaning of ones thoughts, The Shins' lyrics hide the deeper meaning of their songs. Even so, the lyrics could use clarification as fans are aching to know what the songs are really about. But it is still refreshing to hear rock music with poetic lyrics.
Overall, Wincing The Night Away is quite an experience and worth listening to.
"Wincing the Night Away" has some of that poppy mysticism that was so prevalent on the Shins' tremendous debut album, Oh, Inverted World. It's noticeable right away on the song "Sleeping Lessons," which begins quiet and mysterious with a bubbly synth sound but eventually turns into a bit of a rocker, sounding amazingly like an Arcade Fire song (see Neon Bible) when the driving guitar kicks in. James Mercer's voice has a permanent studio-enhanced glaze to it throughout the album, and on songs such as "Phantom Limb" and "Red Rabbits," it acts as the actual hook of the composition. "Phantom Limb" kind of plods along bland and unnoticeable, when suddenly Mercer bursts out with a high-pitched croon in spots, which manages to carry the song to greater heights. The beautiful "Red Rabbits" has a charming, lullabylike quality, and Mercer uses the high register of his voice to give it added depth, along with what sounds like a cello midway through.
More experimental songs include the fuzzed-out sound of the short "Pam Berry" and the hip-hop sound of "Sea Legs," the latter tune a truly great cut. The mellow but danceable "Sea Legs" has a retro hip-hop 1970s beat and feel, but also has elements of (gasp!) Duran Duran's more exotic-sounding work (see Medazzaland). The ending of the song is especially memorable, just a simple guitar riff, some background guitar work, a funky drum beat, some synth, no vocals and a cool fadeout.
Another interesting track is the ethereal "Black Wave," which features an atmospheric vibe, gentle acoustic guitar and echoed vocals by Mercer. The following song, "Split Needles," boasts cool cymbal work, fragmented synth and a darker sound than is typical from Mercer. "Girl Sailor" has some good guitar work and an adept guitar interlude that ranks as one of the finest moments on the album. And, as is always the case with Mercer, he ends the album with a poignant, tender song that leaves you wanting more from the band.
The Shins are James Mercer's baby, and he isn't shy about letting people know he's in charge of what sort of sound the band puts out. However, after a trilogy of albums that have taken Mercer's sound to many great levels, it might be time to include other band members' input, just to differentiate and spice things up a tad. It's my opinion that the Shins have never improved upon their ultra-catchy debut CD, but this one and Chutes Too Narrow are worthy follow-ups that qualify these guys as one of the top rock bands around.
on February 8, 2007
On their first album to be released since being immortalized in the indie rock echelon by Natalie Portman in the 2004 flick "Garden State," The Shins sound invigorating and melodious on "Wincing the Night Away." Its veneer exudes a slight pop sheen in comparison to their past records, but this only serves it, harkening memories of the jaunty indie pop of the 80's while still maintaining a modern sound and meaty subject matter. A cynical stance would hold that they are making a conscious move to the mainstream, but the slight change of sound is merely an acknowledgement of their left-field success.
The tuneful "Phantom Limb," the story of a young lesbian couple dealing contending with small town life, is the lead single and rightfully so. With a sprightly, polished melody and picturesque lyrics, the song is practically an anthem for the normally short-winded Shins, clocking it at close to five minutes.
Still, it is not the only track that warrants investigation. The trippy, echo-laden "Sleeping Lessons" is not only a unique sonic experience but is rife with wise observations concerning America and its people, while the understated "Sea Legs" is pure genius with its lingering melody and lead singer James Mercy's soulful delivery.
"Girl, if you're a seascape/I'm a listing boat, for the thing carries every hope/I invest in a single lie/The choice is yours to be loved/Come away from an emptier boat."
The ultra quirky "Red Rabbits" warns not to "cast your warring eyes on the shore," while "Girl Sailors" and "Black Wave" continue the oceanic theme with clipped yep substantial lyrics. Even the deceivingly peppy "Australia," a piece of gender-based societal commentary jam-packed with pungent resentment, fits the theme.
"You'll be pulled from the ocean/But just a minute too late/Or changed by a potion/You'll find a handsome young mate for you to love/You'll be damned to pining through the windowpanes you know/You'll trade your life for any ordinary Joe."
Straight from the therapist's couch, "Turn On Me" is a melodically jubilant tale of a startlingly unhealthy co-dependent relationship. "A Comet Appears," the final track, ends the disc on a mellow, philosophical note with yet another marine reference. Giving listeners much to ponder, it makes for an ideal close.
The Shins had a lot of pressure riding on this new release, and is it to everyone's benefit that they did not cave in like many bands do, resorting to naval-gazing or bids for full-fledged pop radio airplay that all too often compromise artistic integrity. Instead, they have delivered another quality LP.
on March 3, 2007
This is such a good, solid compilation of fabulous Shins songs, and one that is impossible not to like.
I enjoyed Oh, Inverted World, although I prefer the vocals and the singing style in Wincing the Night Away better-- James Mercer's voice seems stronger and better delivered in this album.
All in all, I just really preferred this album to Oh, Inverted World. It's not a preference I can necessarily place my finger on and define, which may be kind of unhelpful. Anyone who likes The Shins will adore this third effort.
My personal favorite tracks: Australia, Turn On Me, Red Rabbits, Phantom Limb.
on June 3, 2013
This album is, in my opinion, James Mercer's greatest work thus far--surpassing "Chutes Too Narrow" and "Oh, Inverted World" as well as "Ports of Morrow". The album plays great and sounds even better on an uncompressed analogous vinyl format paired with some decent speakers. I would highly recommend it to anyone fond of decent music.
on March 11, 2007
Face it. It's next to impossible to hate this CD. It reminds me of the first time I heard the Beach Boys...hell, I coulda cared less about what they were singing about, all I knew was that I was hearing something that worked. This CD works. I like every thing about this CD. Even the obscure meaning to many of the lyrics counterbalances the catchiness of the melodies. Varying instruments and arrangements between tunes add exceptional depth to the CD. It's one of those CDs that, once finished, you want to start over again.
on June 14, 2007
Well well, I guess it's safe now to say there's no doubt as to the level of talent The Shins possess, and as a band they are here to stay. With this album, they've cemented their place as one of the more provocative, complicated, and catchy bands constantly deserving more airplay. I don't think people should be cringing, or should I say wincing, in anticipation of future releases. `Wincing' is definitely a breakout album, as it shows the band taking a definite stand in upgrading their sound from a quirky, complex indie group to a full-fledged complex rock `n roll band. From the opening track the additional, atmospheric layers of sound are complemented by the more confident drums and the ever present pensive lyric. Confidence is a good description for this; the musicianship is just more confident, bolder on this album. I get the feeling that these guys are no longer relishing their indie status, but have other priorities. Maybe it's a conscious decision to steer clear of the overblown `Garden State' references, as well as James Mercer's brilliant collaboration on Modest Mouse's new album; whatever it is, it's noticeable and feels natural.
As for the album itself, each song is consistently good, but I think the more groundbreaking stuff comes in the first seven or eight songs (mind you there are only eleven), especially `Sleeping Lessons' `Australia' `Phantom Limb' and `Sealegs'. These songs make me ponder the limits of the band's potential, which is frightening. By the time we get to `Black Wave' I get the feeling, though, that the band slowly reverts to their previous efforts. It's at this point that I feel the lyrics may slightly be too dense for the length of the songs, or that we're hearing more of Mercer than The Shins as a group. For example, `A Comet Appears' appears much like the ending songs in `Chutes Too Narrow' as well as in `Oh, Inverted World'; a slow, introspective song that carries softly until it fades to the light sounds of birds chirping. Ending on a more upbeat, less folkish note would have marked this release as a more complete maturation, not to say that their lyrics are immature by any means. But still, there is no doubt this is a breakout album and their best yet.