Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Shins - Wincing the Night Away

There is not really an album in recent memory that I have flip-flopped over more than this one. Initially I loved it. I was ready to proclaim it the pop album of the year, and the year had just begun. The opening song (“Sleeping Lessons”) is amazing…it grabbed me from the very first note.
Then I started listening to it more. I started to dislike it more and more every time I heard it. Every song except “Sleeping Lessons”, “Phantom Limb” and “Sea Legs” sounded annoying and ridiculous. “How could they seriously record a song like this?”
I went back and forth. One day I loved it. One day I hated it. And yet I couldn’t stop listening to it. I decided I had to keep listening to it until I actually decided how I felt about it.
This time around, I really like it, and I think I know why I didn’t like it. It’s a combination of their lead singer’s voice and the entire band’s persona.
The Lead Singer’s Voice: Is it just me, or does the guy always sound like he’s joking about something? This is really a problem for me. I know that they don’t really have jokey lyrics or anything, but it always sounds like he’s on the verge of laughter. It probably shouldn’t bother me that much…but it does. And it’s probably because of…
The Entire Band’s Persona: I know it’s their thing, but every picture of these guys shows them laughing and posing like retarded hyenas. That is, of course, when they’re not dressed up like superheroes, or some such thing. Their interviews are mainly filled with jokes and stories that don’t go anywhere but seem to be meant to be funny. That is, of course, when Hollywood actors aren’t interviewing/fawning all over them. Again, this probably shouldn’t bother me, but I suppose it does…to a bigger degree than I would hope it would. Sorry…it’s just me.
But then I got past all that. I tried to forget about all the pictures, the interviews, the joking lead singer…everything that held me back.
And here’s what I found out: I really like this album. A lot. More than I probably should, considering all the problems I’ve had with it.
The instrumentation is amazing, the songwriting is good, and the singer is actually much better than I’ve ever given him credit for. It’s a great pop album in a world where there are far too few anymore (sadly).
My highlights remain the same. “Sleeping Lessons” is the perfect opener. A bubbling keyboard (or is that a guitar?) line floats underneath a nice vocal line. More instruments are subtly added, until the entire thing blows up into some sort of faux-punk space rock.
“Phantom Limb” is the first single, which I normally buck against, but it’s actually very good. Not much to say about it, other than it’s a very good pop song with great instrumentation…you know, just like how it’s supposed to be done.
I’ve heard a lot made of “Sea Legs” so far, claiming to have a hip-hop backing. Let me squelch that right here. Just because they used programmed drums and used an 808 to kick up the plastic bag sample (they used a plastic bag sample as the bass hit) does not make it a hip-hop beat. Between the beat and the heavy keyboard/string backing, it comes off more as a dark 80s new wave beat than anything (take that, music magazines).
All in all, this is a great album…it just may take you 4 weeks or more to decide that.

Rating: 8.6

Essential Tracks: “Australia”, “Turn On Me”, “Split Needles”

Favorite Tracks: “Sleeping Lessons”, “Phantom Limb”, “Sea Legs”

Check out the band here, or buy their album here


Anonymous said...

Hey man - I liked this one from the get-go. You're right on about the lead track being so good. As soon as I can I'm going to listen to this one again.

I see what you mean about the lead singer sounding like he's about to joke about something. I think it's the Zach Braff association from Garden State/The New Slang. Anyway, his lyrics are believably (not dramatically) self-deprecating, which leads me to beleive that he's not going to start wearing... say, a bulletproof vest? a bedazzled green suit? So there's my take on that one.

Keep stickin' it to the music mags.

-Anonymous Ben

Fosterface said...

3 months later, and I'm still listening attentively. A better follow-up to Chutes Too Narrow I cannot imagine.