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The Shins - Wincing the Night Away

Released on Sub Pop, 1/23/07

The endorsement of The Shins by Natalie Portman in the 2004 sleeper hit Garden State served as quite the catalyst for the previously ("relatively") unknown band. The quirky, brilliant idiosyncratic sound of The Shins was in many ways the perfect sound for a film that could be described in a similar fashion. Suddenly, The Shins had a whole new audience of listeners.

The Shins responded by taking their time in crafting the album that would eventually become Wincing the Night Away. Far from being a painful or wince-inducing experience, The Shins latest is a remarkably well crafted, creative and engaging album from start to finish. James Mercer and his fellow Shins have crafted eleven tracks that amuse, intrigue, and entertain.

The fourth track (and the most heavily played on the airwaves), "Phantom Limb", is a wondrous amalgamation of a Beach Boys-esque 60s pop sound and complex lyricism that has nothing to do with good vibrations, California girls, or anything between. The Shins somehow manage to marry an upbeat, poppy sound with a story of the trials and travails of two lesbians. The payoff is one of the most unique and catchy tracks on Wincing the Night Away.

Following "Phantom Limb" is the equally lyrically creative "Sealegs", a complicated salt water infused journey (sans compass) through the peril fraught waters of love. One does require sealegs to endure such a perilous, unpredictable journey. But, if the sirens don’t lead you astray said waters can be navigated with some chance of safety….and perhaps the chance of love.

A similarly nautically-themed track is the more straight up rock sounding "Girl Sailor", which navigates risky, love filled waters as well. The Shins experience of love is far from sunshine and roses, rather it seems to be much closer to "Sturm und Drang" (aka Storm and Stress). But, how many have had an easy time with love anyway?

The remaining tracks on Wincing the Night Away are an eclectic mixture of the unique, experimental, and beautifully lyrical. Even if you’re challenged to decode the admittedly sometimes convoluted lyrics, the Shins succeed in creating a distinctive sound for each track that never falls to grab your attention and to evoke a certain emotion or feeling.

Thus, the extensive pre-release hype associated with Wincing the Night Away can largely be characterized as quite warranted. The Shins have managed to stretch considerably with this latest effort and avoid straying too far from the sound that has endeared them to longtime fans. This music may not change your life, but it will make you contemplate, it will make you smile, and it will make you want to listen to it again and again.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars