The Passion of the Weiss

Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick. But most of the time, I don't rhyme.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Album Review: Phantom Limb or The Shins Have the Last Braff


The Shins have an album coming out next Tuesday but you'd never know it if you only read music blogs for your news, considering most of them have kept mum about the record since its leak last October, thanks to Sub Pop's subsequent buzz-crushing decision to call in the blog police for some good ol' cease and desist action. Then again, you can't blame Sub Pop for wanting to protect their investment, nor can you really fault them for wondering how much Internet noise matters at this point for the Garden State poster boys. No matter how much bloggers rant or rave, it won't change the fact that this is going to be the dorm soundtrack of a hundred thousand love-lorn sorority girls, wishing that they too could find their own hyper-literate Zach Braff-esque nebbish.

Meanwhile, the cooler-than-thou crowd has long since begun wondering whether or not its still okay to a band unfairly saddled with being able to "to change your life." Unsurprisingly, a few middling reviews have already trickled in from Rolling Stone and Play Louder. Though to be fair, Robert Christgau is pushing 70 and doesn't exactly fit anyone's definition of the cooler-than-thou crowd.

So let the cliche-as-soon-as-it-happened Garden State jokes stop (at least after next Tuesday.) The Shins definitely won't change your life, nor will this album, other than maybe James Mercer, who might find himself bumped into the next income tax bracket, provided Sub Pop can ink a couple more savvy licensing deals. Caring is creepy, but it's also lucrative. And hey, Braff's about to start filming a Fletch sequel. Who knows maybe Irwin Fletcher in his newer, inevitably more wussified incarnation might enjoy him some "Phantom Limb."

You Mean They Green-Lit Garden State 2?? Yippee!!!!!
So fuck all that nonsensical hyperbole from Mr. Scrub. It doesn't change a damn thing. This is a good band and Wincing the Night Away is a very good album. Don't go expecting Chutes Too Narrow redux. This isn't it. There aren't a whole lot of catchy tailor-made singles to satisfy the 99 cent Itunes crowd. In their stead is a moodier, brooding record. Of course, the Shins still write jangly harmony-driven pop songs, but they sound grown-up now, no longer feeling up to making sunny-day music for mentally unstable attractive girls in psychiatrists' office.

Lyrically, James Mercer remains inscrutably vague in an introspective, wistful sort of way, tossing off laments about aging, numbness, and zombie-walking through towns that are hardly worth your time. In short, its The Shins' break-up record. And like a break-up, the album is deceptively complex and tough to navigate. Each listen revealing a different angle of interpretation, a distinct analysis of facts you thought were clear-cut, another emotion cut from James Mercer's thin echoing voice and the band's stone-washed harmonies. The four years off seem well-spent, as the band has mastered the little details, keeping a variety of disparate parts churning underneath a superficially glassy veneer.

While never divorcing their Beach Boys/Beatles foundation, Winging the Night Away finds the Shins getting experimental. "Split Needles" revolves around a spiky bridge jutting out at the minute and half mark, shambling into into a sea of frozen blue electronics, splintering into sharp shards of sound. "Pam Berry" is buried in a muddy shoe-gaze of guitars. While "Sea Legs" finds Mercer's love-lorn vocal buoyed by airy fluttering strings.

The Shins: Changing Lives One Fist at a Time
Running 10-plus minutes longer than anything they've ever done, the added heft feels right alongside the sleepy rainy day vibe of the record. Along with The New Pornographers, Spoon and Wilco, these guys just seem like one of those rare bands that doesn't know how to write a bad song.

Maybe these are all wasted words. At this point, you know what you're going to get when you pick up a Shins record. You all know this isn't a grab you by the lapels and make you re-evaluate your relationship with Jesus type of band. (For that we have Creed). So forget all those silly Garden State labels that every reviewer including myself will wrongly think himself clever for referencing. Of course, this album won't change your life. But it will make it a whole lot more pleasant.

Rating: 8.7

Buy the album at Insound


MP3: The Shins-"Phantom Limb"

Bonus from Chutes Too Narrow
MP3: The Shins- "Kissing the Lipless"

3 Comments:

At 8:22 AM, Blogger Wayne said...

Have been listening to it nonstop for the last 2 days. I agree it doesn't have the absolute pop gems of Chutes too Narrow, but James Mercer's languid voice still hits the mark. It sounds better with every listen. Is it great, no. Is it damn good, absolutely. Favourite song- A Comet Appears.

 
At 1:09 PM, Anonymous Joe said...

I haven't yoinked this album yet, but I probably will now. I figured the popularity would get to their heads but from this it seems like they still kick ass.

only song i've heard is phantom limb and i dig it, like a poppy fruit bats song.

thanks for the great blog, i read it everyday.

 
At 2:30 PM, Blogger Chris said...

I'm somewhat of a new Shins fan, for shame, especially since I live in Portland. But sometimes you get sick of hearing "Indie" and anything that fits that category turns you off.

Wincing is definitely less poppy than Chutes, it's very introspective, you can feel the Northwest's vibe on the record. You can feel the band extending, trying out some new things - maybe they hit maybe they don't. I think most of them do. A few of the songs you named have some definite shades of early 80's british pop - tell me if you don't hear some New Order in here (Sea Legs, Phantom, Split Needles). A Comet Appears is John Denver-esque. I don't what the hell Red Rabbits is, but it's great to smoke a bowl to and try to figure out what the hell is going on. I'm not a Shins homer, but this is a very good CD. It's fascinating, and it's catchy in a strange way.

 

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