Being the band that, according to music critics, single-handedly represents the indie-pop scene is a tough cross to bear. After the release of Oh, Inverted World, the Shins were praised for their originality and sub-mainstream music quality.
Two years later, with the release of Chutes Too Narrow, critics were falling all over themselves again. With the release of Wincing the Night Away on Monday, the follow-up success of this LP?remains to be seen.
To begin with, it’s no Oh, Inverted World or Chutes Too Narrow sequel. Though it’s hard to say whether this is a product of growth, since it’s been three years after the release of Chutes, it certainly reflects a new spin on their old style.
That’s not to say that Wincing is terrible. However, where in the past each song complemented the others, whereas these tracks almost stand alone as singles.
The first track, “Sleeping Lessons,” starts out with a dream-like arpeggio on the vibraphone with lead singer James Mercer’s voice rising and falling over the same whimsical lyrics of almost nonsense. Near the end, it fades into indie-combined-bubblegum pop, introducing listeners to the sound of the next song. Be wary, though: The introduction is no hint of what the listener can expect from the album as a whole.
“Australia” and “Phantom Limb,” tracks two and four, continue the b-pop interpretation and are quite catchy. The drumming on “Phantom Limb” sounds at times like the music you’d expect your parents to have listened to at their senior prom. If not for Mercer’s voice it might even be plausible. The lyrics are somewhat similar to their previous releases in that they seem to make little sense; however, these are undeniably more grounded.
In “Australia,” for example, Mercer sings about a girl: “You’ll be damned to pining through the windowpanes / You know you’ll change your life for any ordinary Joe/ And though your night will go on / Your nightmares only need a year or two to unfold.” Let’s be honest: It’s difficult to cite their lyrics for exhibit purposes, but the references to tangible, familiar things take the place of their former imaginative ones.
“Pam Berry” and “Black Wave,” tracks three and eight, are interludes. Consequently, with the exception of “Phantom Limb,” “Pam Berry” steers the album in the direction of more modern, Shins-esque tunes.”Seascape” sounds like a spacey, melodic rock piece, and is also about a girl: “Girl, if you’re a seascape / I’m a listing boat, for the thing carries every hope / I invest in a single lie / The choice is yours to be loved / Come away from an emptier boat.”
The CD ends with a mellow guitar-picking pieces and some easy – dare one say – folk rock. While it’s catchy and enjoyable, it just doesn’t sit well.
For three years worth of waiting, is it too terrible to have expected more? Self-proclaimed hipsters will probably turn up their noses and walk in the opposite direction, fingers in ears. For the rest of the crowd, it might just be a perfect combination of pop rock with mellow undertones – a good driving CD, at least.