Review Summary: The Shins best album to date, but still nothing to write home about.
I never quite understood the hype surrounding The Shins. Besides the band’s mega-hit (as far as “indie” goes) New Slang, nothing about them really caught my ear, so when the day hit and I had to decide whether or not I wanted to go out and purchase the album, I decided I might as well, seeing as how I’d just acquired my driver’s license and the slightest yearning for an item is a good enough excuse for any new driver to put that license to all it’s worth.
But the Shins allure…what is it exactly? Is it there ability to take the eerie atmosphere of indie and chop it up into catchy pieces digestible for someone who’s never been near an indie album in their life? Is it this ability to bridge the gap between the un-groomed hipster and the soccer mom that makes them so widely adored? That’s certainly the best I can come up with.
The main issue with the past two releases by the band has been their inability to differ in sound, and with the album’s opener “Sleeping Lessons” it seems that the band may fall into their own trap again. Opening the album with the voice distortion effect that James Mercer loves so well and a dream-like effect accompanying him, it’s really quite disappointing, realizing that you could’ve just listened to one of their previous albums. Oddly enough, as it seems for The Shins, everything suddenly changes mid-song and the song becomes energetic. It may be a bit clichéd by now, going from “soft to loud”, but coming from the Shins, it’s refreshing and exciting.
However, everything on the album starts to sound similar to each other and not much is really note-worthy. Though the songs are a bit different than those released on Oh, Inverted World
or Chutes Too Narrow
all songs on the new album do sound quite similar to one another.
This all changes when “Sea Legs” comes on. It’s a departure from the rest of the album and is truly an indie-pop gem. Bassist Dave Hernandez finally gets a chance to come alive, something that’s rarely happened before for the band. Hernandez and drummer Jesse Sandoval work together perfectly to create a terrific little groove also complemented quite well by an acoustic guitar, and not quite as well by some other ambiences caused by the synth. However, “Sea Legs” is certainly one of the top three songs on the album, if not the best.
The other two are the back-to-back combo of “Black Wave” and “Split Needles”. “Black Waves” is a beautifully eerie acoustic song with some perfectly placed ambiences to set a dark and depressive mood, and as the song fades out, yet another effect is placed on Mercer’s voice to cause him to sound as if he is voice is fading as well, though it really distracts from the song and is quite annoying. On “Split Needles” the rhythm section puts on yet another spectacular performance, blending together perfectly with an arpeggio riff it all sets up a wonderful musical performance, until midway through the song, an ill-conceived keyboard solo takes charge and becomes a major flaw, in an otherwise, perfect song.
That’s really the major flaw with most of The Shins work. When they try to get too complicated, they end up ruining great songs. They’re truly at their best when they just keep it simple with the essentials of drum, bass, and guitar and they don’t try to get too experimental. They have grown quite a bit on this record, creating their best so far, however they are still not worthy of the excessive praise they get from most of the media. If for their next effort, they keep up the work with those steady rhythm section grooves and stay away from excessive amounts of synth, then perhaps someday they’ll be worthy of the praise they receive, but until then, I’ll still be wondering where it all comes from.