Saturday, May 26, 2007

MUSIC REVIEW: The Shins - Wincing the Night Away (2007)
By Alison Ross

Shimmering Pop Crafted with Clever Confidence

I discovered the Shins a bit belatedly - only in the last couple of years have I learned to embrace this staggeringly talented band. But now that I own all three of the band's sparklingly crafted CDs, plus a burned CD of their days as Flake Music, I can honestly say that The Shins feel like the second coming of the Cure to me. This is not to say that The Shins brazenly mimic the Cure sound, because they do not. The Shins merely incorporate nuanced elements of the Cure sonic landscape, while stitching in many other threads of influence as well, such as folk, sunny surf-rock, progressive rock, indie pop, and so on.

No, what I mean by this pronouncement is that in 1985, when I discovered The Cure, a whole new musical vista opened up to me. It's been over 20 years since that aural ephipany occurred, and I can feel it happening again with the Shins.

I loved the sprightly charms of Chutes to Narrow, and Oh, Inverted World is a masterfully understated piece of work. But there is something more appealingly assertive about Wincing The Night Away. The Shins have flexed their musical muscles a bit on this CD, pumping out songs that boast more bluster and flair. Sure, the fragile flowers are still there - those gossamer gems featuring lush acoustics and celestial melodies. But The Shins of 2007 exude an almost cocky confidence, and on bleakly beautiful anthemic ballads like Phantom Limb, this assuredness could not be more conspicuous. But it's not generic frat-boy cockiness we're talking about here: it's an artful arrogance tempered with clever insight into what makes a pop song memorable and durable.

James Mercer's vocals astound me with their crystal clarity, soaring range, and falsetto flourishes. His euphoric crooning invites obvious comparisons to a Kiss Me-era Robert Smith and Beach Boy Brian Wilson, and yet his voice is daringly fresh.

Lyrically, some of the songs can be difficult to decode, swathed as they are in layers of elusive symbolism. And perhaps some reviewers are correct in stating that this album lacks the cohesiveness of the previous Shins efforts.

Still, these 11 shimmering songs with cunning allure boldly blot out any perceived blemishes.

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