By Chris Pacifico
After four long years, The Shins are back. Fans old and new will find their third effort, Wincing the Night Away, dark but accessible. They've relocated from their original stomping grounds of Albuquerque to Portland, where frontman James Mercer was living next door to a crack house. Add in a case of crippling insomnia (the source of the album's title) and close to two years making the album, and Wincing the Night Away sees The Shins still clinging to their cuddly melodies and fetching hooks but this time with a dark storm cloud hovering over things.
The opening salvo, "Sleeping Lessons," is a foreboding slab of bubbly power pop. "Australia" shows their proclivity for peppering their ditties with a dash of minimalist southwestern twang. "Pam Berry" is an interlude tantamount to an airy chill. Viva Voce's Anita Robinson lends her menthol cool pipes to "Turn On Me" and "Phantom Limb."
The Shins have expanded their sugary pop lucidity into barren landscapes with the icy chamber funk of "Sea Legs," a tune with such a rustic rhythmic sashay that it'll leave Beck kicking himself in the ass for not penning it. Decemberist Chris Funk lays down the lap steel guitar for "Red Rabbits."
While not quite the instant classic the previous two Shins albums were, Wincing the Night Away shines more light on Mercer as an artist. It's a lot like getting lit while watching the Teletubbies. It's all frolicsome on the outside but once you take a deeper look, it's apparent that a creepy and enigmatic interior is somehow within.
JamBase | Portland
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