On Tour: Review of The Shins’ ‘Wincing the Night Away’

Well, I had a little snowday yesterday, so the newspaper’s release was postponted to today. Here’s my latest edition of “On Tour,” a review of The Shins’ latest…
The album opener, “Sleeping Lessons,” brings in the album quite gently, with relaxing, ambient effects. But much like reaching the top of the first hill of a rollercoaster, you eventually have to take the first plunge. Fortunately, the plunge is a pleasant and easy-going one that will not shock you in the least. From there, the album takes many exciting, but also some boring, turns.

The introduction of the second track, “Australia,” borrows the ambient-synth style from the first track, but quickly fades as electric lead and acoustic rhythm guitars take over for the verse and chorus. The lyrics are decently creative – neither great works of poetry, nor the same old break-up or revenge song lyrics, thankfully.

“Pam Berry,” a 56-second-long track serves dual functions. Lyrically, it is a sort of epilogue to “Australia,” but melodically, it is an introduction to the album’s single, “Phantom Limb.” The transition between the third and fourth tracks is seamless and unnoticeable, thanks to some excellent studio mastering, and makes it seem as though the two tracks should be one and the same. But for it to properly serve its twin purpose, it had to have been a separate song.

It may seem odd that I just used the longest paragraph so far to detail a 56-second intermission track. But this example really shows how much effort went into the creative aspects of this album. It is not the usual poppy Brit-rock of bands like Modest Mouse or Franz Ferdinand. The thoughtfulness shown in the lyrics makes The Shins seem almost like an Indie band.

Take the fifth track, “Sea Legs,” for example: “of all the churning, random hearts under the sun…/These two are opening now as we lie.” These two lines are addressing the understood “you,” usually taken to mean a girl, but in a completely new and beautifully poetic way. The occasional electronic violin accompaniment provides a nice complement to the balladic lyrics of the song, which are otherwise unsupported by heavily syncopated rhythms.

“Red Rabbits” serves as a sort of second intermission – for the first half of the song, only electronic melodies complement vocals of a style similar to Death Cab for Cutie. An acoustic guitar makes a couple of cameos, but this song provides a break from the more serious poetry of earlier tracks with whimsical, fairy tale-like lines (“the trees in the moonshine are a dark lattice.”). “Rabbits” also serves as the dividing line between two almost harshly contrasting sides to the same album.

The songs before “Rabbits” are all great songs with upbeat tempos and happy melodies that are done in a smooth and relaxed way characteristic of Brit-rock. But the songs after the halfway-point are much slower and more experimental – more suited for late-night listening and sometimes quite difficult to distinguish. But overall, the album manages to be clever and ambitious (both lyrically and melodically) without shocking the listener. “Wincing The Night Away” is an eclectic and unique album you will remember for a great while.

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