Concettina Died and Other Stories of the East Side

Wincing The Night Away, posted November 4, 2006 at 01:06 PM

The Shins have a new album--Wincing The Night Away--due out in January. Somehow, someone gave me a copy of it early. It's their third record and third triumph. After the last album came out I described them to a friend as Brian Wilson backed up by The Smiths. They've spread out a bit wider this time to show a much broader range of songwriting and instrumentation.

Easily my favorite track on the record is Turn On Me, a gliding melody of despair. It opens with minor chord guitar licks that mimic the famous Phil Specter opening rhythm of the Ronettes' Be My Baby, then a driving beat props up James Mercer's winding tale of unrequited love--"So affections fade away / And two adults just learn to play the most ridiculous, repulsive games." The middle section pulses with driving rhythm guitars then a lead guitar solo over it. And his lyrics come back with a hook: "You had to know that I was fond of you--fond of Y.O.U.--so I took your licks at the time." And it all comes tumbling down to clean finish of guiars, drums, and lyrics: "Oh how your sisters were right / The worst part is over / Now get back on that horse and ride."

The guitars are pushed to the front of the mix throughout the album. After a minute-long intro, the first track (Sleeping Lessons) explodes into a delicious crunch of driving guitars and boom-chick boom-chick drums. Then the second song--one of the tracks that sounds more like The Shins' last album--layers the guitars a la Johnny Marr, albeit with a rockabilly beat and classic Mercer vocalization--"changed by a potio-ah-ah-ah-aaaaan."

The big break-out comes with "Sea Legs," an almost boozy shipwreck of a song that sounds more like Beck than The Shins. Strong erratic beats, haunted strings, haunted vocals, slow pacing building up to an almost two-minute instrumental ending that layers guitars, keyboards, and drums as well as Remain-in-Light-era Talking Heads.

An old assistant of mine, upon my noting that the first two Shin's albums were each only slightly longer than 30 minutes, grinned and said, "All killer, no filler!" Same holds true on Wincing The Night Away--it's 41 minutes of enthralling pop music without any missteps.

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