Album Review: The Shins | “Wincing the Night Away”

Donald Bernat

Why it rocks: “Wincing the Night Away,” the Shins’ latest album release, along with the opening track “Sleeping Lessons,” references bouts of insomnia that haunted frontman Andrew Mercer while feeling the pressure of his band’s newfound success and worrying about how to live up to the hype on their next album. Luckily, James Mercer and company do not disappoint.

While the album starts off slow and forgettable, about 2/3 of the way into “Sleeping Lessons” the band finally kicks into full form and Mercer powerfully declares to his ever growing troop of critics: “You don’t have to swallow anything that you despise.” The first single, “Phantom Limb,” showcases Mercer’s best talent: the ability to write songs that are simultaneously melancholy yet undeniably catchy and full of dualities. While on the surface the song is fairly laid back before swelling into the gorgeous melodies of the chorus, the pulsating bass line that lies beneath the gentle acoustic strums gives an underlying sense of urgency that demands the listener’s attention. Similarly, the following track, “Sea Legs,” is full of bubbling synth and funky bass juxtaposed by gentle acoustic guitar.

The Shins also make use of some rather creative arrangements as “Australia” features prevalent use of both xylophone at the beginning and cleverly placed banjo licks at the end of the song. The strongest track on the album, “Spilt Needles,” makes fine use of synthesizer, which imitates a constantly wavering violin, perfectly accentuating the somber tone of the song.

The album does sport a few rather forgettable tracks, most notably the repetitive “Black Wave” and mostly instrumental “Pam Berry;” however, aside from this, the album is fantastic from start to finish. It seems that Mercer will once again be able to sleep soundly after all.

Song Worth Downloading: “Spilt Needles”

Our Rating (out of 5): * * * * 1/2