It wouldn't be fair just now, with the release of their third LP, Wincing the Night Away, to add the Shins to the growing list of indie bands finding a faithful and growing audience with today's young adults.
After all, some form of the band has existed as far back as 1992. They were called Flake then, and they were led by singer/songwriter/guitarist James Mercer. A few years and bandmates later, Mercer is finding himself the centerpiece of one of the hottest young bands in rock music. All this came about by playing consistently solid music and a little luck. Some strategically-placed dialogue in Zach Braff's 2004 smash hit film Garden State certainly helped, but hey, that's the luck of the draw, and now Wincing the Night Away is one of the first highly-anticipated releases of the new year.
The Shins are finding success the same way their friends and old touring partners Modest Mouse did - by innocently crafting pop-rock with no premeditated intentions of conquering the world. Maybe this is a na've, romanticized way to look at a band, but it's the only way to describe the image the Shins emanate.
It's important to remember this delicate nature when listening to the album. People who are told by friends that listening to the Shins will be an existential experience will no doubt be disappointed by the band'ssimplicity. Actually, simple is an understatement at times; often Mercer's soft voice sounds numbed by painkillers. But he's quirky in the way that made Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo so lovable, and so there's plenty of fodder for jaded fans' Instant Messenger away messages in his lyrics.
Surely young teens will spend hours at the computer trying to find an excuse to relate to "Out of a gunnysack for red rabbits/ Into the crucible to be rendered an emulsion," though one could argue even Mercer doesn't know what he's saying.
It's easier to forgive him for declarations like "Of all the intersecting lines in the sand/ I routed a labyrinth to your lap" when the music behind them is so beautiful, which, in most cases, it is. Take "Sea Legs," the song from which those lyrics are from.Its languid, liberated melody altogether breaks itself open with an extended march of keyboards, strings and guitars. It's a bit of a departure from the band's lo-fi roots, but it works pristinely.
The main weakness of Wincing the Night Away - and it's a big one - is that there is little here with enough substance to resonate in the listener. The album is considerably longer than the band's previous two releases, yet feels like it ends abruptly. It's peppered with pleasant songs that get the listener's muscles twitching but then just as easily slip out of memory.
Not that Mercer should steer his band into experimental