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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    The Shins: Wincing the Night Away

    Despite whatever Natalie Portman blurts out on screen, The Shins will most certainly not change your life, as many reviews have already pointed out. However, their newest release, Wincing the Night Away, which debuted on Jan. 23, continues the band’s legacy of solid across-the-board performances. Furthermore, while Wincing the Night Away doesn’t exactly blow away The Shins’ earlier releases, it is quite clearly a step in an interesting new direction.

    Every track on the new album is highly distinguishable – The Shins aptly avoid the song-title memory blur that accompanies many albums when they first emerge, largely because the CD covers such a wide stylistic range. Its ambition is proven early, when the first track, Sleeping Lessons, slow and whimsical, fades into Australia, a jangley power-pop number reminiscent of classic Shins.

    You’ll want to play Phantom Limb, the first single from the album, about one thousand times. It manages to be both tightly focused and strikingly interesting all at once, making for a smart power play of a song. Also of note is Sea Legs, which imbues a well-written pop song with a hip-hop groove, marking new ground for the New Mexico quartet.

    Wincing the Night Away maintains itself from beginning to end. Split needles, a tense late-album track, shows a dark side of the Shins that’s alluded to, briefly, on past albums. A Comet Appears is a classic Shins finisher – folky and stripped down, it’s the only track on the album to really comes close to the thick, autumny atmosphere of the Shin’s first album, the breakout hit Oh, Inverted World. Undoubtedly something Ms. Portman’s Garden State character would swoon over, if you’re a fan of that side of The Shins.

    Lead singer James Mercer’s lyrics are as cryptic as ever – confusing college English stuff that ties love themes to social and existential commentary. However, he still makes it work. It’ll take you a couple listens to figure out the songs, but it’ll sound like poetry all the way through.

    Most reviews will say that The Shins have fallen into their stride after their freshmen and sophomore albums, and have successfully branched out in Wincing the Night Away. It’s true that the new album is a triumphant experiment. However, it’s important to note that something was a lost along the way – a sort of high school autumn atmosphere that permeated the first album, and waned on the second release, Chutes Too Narrow.

    I have a friend who used to say, ‘Why listen to The Shins when you can just listen to the Beatles? They’re practically the same band.’ He was good at pointing out the similarities in tone and song structure, in the lyrics and in the harmonies. However, there was always something special about The Shins, in my opinion. It was hard to classify, something in the production or in the words, in the timbre of the guitars or in the sound of James Mercer’s voice. What it amounted to, though, was an atmosphere of extreme nostalgia and thoughtful sadness. The band, in their experimentation, has ditched this mood. Although it’s a solid album, the question remains: will they still mean the same thing to us sans their original magic?

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