The Shins: ‘Wincing The Night Away’ review

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Third LP from New Mexico’s finest indie export. It’s their best yet

The Shins’ singer and songwriter James Mercer recently confessed that this record’s rather strange title was down to the fact that he’d been struggling to sleep at night, so aware was he of the feverish anticipation around the album. No surprise there – the band’s obsessed fans are as freakily passionate as any emo tribe, while Natalie Portman telling Zach Braff that The Shins would “change your life” in the 2004 cult movie Garden State can’t have helped his blood pressure much in those long, lonely nights either.

But you know what? Mercer really needn’t have worried about the reaction. The group’s third album, the follow-up to 2003’s (2004 in the UK) brilliant ‘Chutes Too Narrow’, is their best yet, and is set to launch them into the big league. Well, if there’s any justice it will anyway. The New Mexico four-piece have upped the ante considerably, producing a much more varied, confident sound without compromising one little bit. Contained within are genius, hook-laden pop songs (the single ‘Phantom Limb’, ‘Turn On Me’), stunningly pretty psychedelia (‘Red Rabbits’, ‘Black Wave’) and, on the loping strut of ‘Sea Legs’, their biggest stylistic departure yet, there’s even tasteful hip-hop style beats. Yes, you heard that right.

The icing on the cake is Mercer’s cryptic lyrics – like Dylan, you’re never quite sure what he’s actually on about most of the time, but when he mentions being “faced with the dodo’s conundrum” (‘Australia’) or refers to “polymorphing opinion” on the woozy ‘Spilt Needles’, it sounds so good that in the end it really doesn’t matter.

Alright, it’s only January, but this is the first classic album of 2007. The only thing that should keep The Shins awake at night right now is wondering how the hell they’re going to top it.

Alan Woodhouse