Wincing the Night Away – The Shins

Wincing the Night Away album artWincing the Night Away

The Shins


Sub Pop

So, The Shins… an indie band lead by frontman James Mercer.  The Shins started out in life as Flake Music, then took their new name from one of their songs.  After their first two albums, Oh, Inverted World! and Chutes Too Narrow, The Shins came out with Wincing the Night Away in 2007.  Most people have probably heard at least one track on the album, as it got about as much popularity as “New Slang”.

The album begins with “Sleeping Lessons”.  We’re treated to what sounds like a dream sequence tune, with Mercer’s distorted vocals shortly thereafter.  I sort of think this may be a turn-off for those getting their first taste of The Shins.  But Mercer pulls it off flawlessly, and the rest of the band comes in, and we hear the James Mercer we’re so used to hearing.  Also following general Shins trends, the wordplay Mercer uses is very reminiscent of the two previous albums, and continues through the whole of Wincing.

“Australia” is the next track and starts off with someone with a German accent yelling across the room ‘It’s time to put ze earphones on you!‘ Well, that’s what it sounds like to me… The transition from “Sleeping Lessons” into “Australia” is so seamless, that I even forget which song is on sometimes.  But about the song itself, it’s signature Shins sounds, except that James Mercer swears! *Gasp* For some reason this song always puts me in a good mood.  Maybe that it’s a rather upbeat tempo, maybe it’s that the lyrics seem to reflect growing up, both physically and emotionally, like so many Shins songs from previous offerings.

“Pam Berry” has always seemed somewhat awkward to me.  I’m not sure if it was meant to be a stand-alone song, or just a slightly more elaborate intro to “Phantom Limb”.  Either way, something about this song always put me off a little bit, even though it, too, is very reminiscent of previous Shins songs.  It’s kind of the low point before the big hit which follows…

“Phantom Limb”.  This would be the song which got about as big as “New Slang”.  The vocals here sounds as much like the other two albums as any song on the album, and Mercer is really at his high point here.  He shows his range, and brilliant lyrical writings at once.  The lyric which is my favorite here is ‘the milk from the window lights, family portrait circa ’95’.  For some reason it just seems to evoke something from what I know to be classic Shins.  I have only one negative thing to say about this song, and it is this:  it goes on too long.  The bridge repeating at the end incessantly has me skipping to the next track preemptively sometimes, and it’s a shame.  All in all, though, this really is one of the best tracks on the album, and that’s saying something, considering the next few are heavy contenders as well.

As “Phantom Limb” fades out, we’re then treated to the entrance of “Sea Legs”.  This is a very different sound for The Shins, and even avid listeners of Inverted and Chutes might not recognize it… but then James Mercer’s vocals remind us that this truly is The Shins that we’ve come to know and love.  While this is a variation from their normal sound, I think they manage to pull it off very well.  Could this hint at a different direction of sound for their next album?  It’s possible, and I can say I wouldn’t be disappointed if it were the case.

So then comes “Red Rabbits”, and we first hear what sounds like a childish tune, and then James Mercer does something different.  He sings in a lower tune than we’re accustomed to.  Of course, there are some parts where he strays back to his usual sound, namely during the chorus.  I feel this is another high point of the album, albeit, again, a slightly different sound than we’re used to.  It’s a very relaxing song, and Mercer proves his ability to do whatever he wants, and succeed.

“Turn on Me” then goes back to the sound that is what we expect from The Shins.  Mercer busts out early, and I personally love the lyrics on this song.  It’s another song that seems to be about someone growing up, learning about interacting with others, and moving on.  There is no doubt for me that this is one of the best songs on the album, possibly even better than “Phantom Limb”

Unfortunately, this kind of sets up the next track for disappointment.  “Black Wave” does all it can to appeal to me, but something about it that I can’t put my finger on throws me off.  It almost seems like they were trying to mix the mellow songs that frequented the ends of their previous albums with their normal sound.  It just ends up coming off as a rather dark song to me, and maybe that’s what kills it for me.  I’m so used to The Shins being an upbeat, happy-go-lucky sound, and this shatters that.  Personally, it’s another low point on the album for me.

“Split Needles” starts off with some twangy guitar and simple repeat drums, and then, as if you expected anything different, Mercer shows why he’s such a great frontman.  He really puts his emotions behind the vocals here, and it shows.  This definitely doesn’t feel like a winding down song on an album from The Shins; it’s more of a middle-of-the-album track that’s made to stand out, rather than get lost in the mix.

So we come to the penultimate song, “Girl Sailor”, and boy does it deliver.  It’s back to the usual upbeat song about growing up that The Shins seem to have made into a trademark.  “Girl Sailor” delivers just as much as “Phantom” or “Turn” in my opinion.  It really is a definitive track of The Shins as a whole.

And we then arrive at the final track, “A Comet Appears”.  Keeping in stride with previous albums, it’s a mellow song, with Mercer displaying his vocal prowess.  But, if you listen closer to the lyrics, it’s amazing how the words and the sound contrast so much.  The song definitely is very good, not quite up to the level of the heavy hitters (if you can call any Shins song ‘heavy’) but it definitely isn’t a letdown of any kind.

So there we have Wincing the Night Away, the latest (albeit two years old) offering from The Shins.  Personally, I think this album is fantastic, but it falls just ever so slightly short of Oh, Inverted World! and Chutes Too Narrow.  Not that that’s a bad thing, as both of those albums are incredible offerings.  If you have any interest in The Shins at all, I highly suggest giving this a few play-throughs.  You won’t be disappointed.

Buy This Album

Official Site Page


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