The best part of being a music lover is when you listen to a new release from a favorite artist—one you’ve been waiting for—for the first time. It’s a moment that makes you forget what’s going on in your life or whatever else is on your mind. All is love. Despite two full-time jobs (I’m still figuring out how it’s possible to have two full-time jobs), it’s something I find time to make an event out of.
So I guess you might know how I feel about the Shins and their forthcoming album Wincing the Night Away (due January 23, 2007). I’m expecting a backlash for two reasons. 1) It’s been three years since Chutes Too Narrow, and in this day and age people don’t want to wait for an album that long without it being an undeniable masterpiece (a dangerous proposition because, uh, there is no such thing). 2) A majority of the band’s fanbase (the Garden Staters) fell in love with a song long after they’d already shifted stylistically. Regardless, Wincing is a fantastic album.
The sharp melodies and clever twists and turns still abound. They’re still finding ways to make minor progressions seem warm and fuzzy. But your enjoyment of the album, whether you’re a Shins fan or not, will depend on how you feel about the instrumentation. There are songs, like the first single “Phantom Limb” or the sublime “Turn On Me,” that sound like vintage Shins. But those are rare. Hardly does a traditional instrument appear without a warm electronic wash or cadre of vocal harmonies. The songs are more rounded and fleshed out than their previous albums. Rolling Stone says, “they’ve grown up and out of their pretty psychedelic Sixties pop,” which is true. What they only hinted at on “Mine’s Not a High Horse” is now what they now hang their hat on.
Personally, I love the new direction, and Mercer’s voice triggers my endorphins like no other. Something about it just clicks with me. There was recently a message board thread about moments when all of the ingredients in a song come together for one blissful peak. I consider it apropos because, to my biochemistry, no single band has more of those moments than the Shins. They’ve perfected creating those moments. And Wincing the Night Away is full of them. For example: the chorus of “Turn On Me,” when James Mercer sings, “‘Cause you had to know that I was fond of you. Fond of y-o-u,” and all at once I remember every single reason I love life.
You can stream the lead single, “Phantom Limb,” on myspace.
Update: Download “Phantom Limb” here.