Review Summary: The Shins start off strong with easygoing and lively indie pop on their delightful debut LP.
The Shins are one of those bands that can quickly lift you out of a bad mood. This band has a knack for appealing to just about any listener willing to be soothed with such pleasant, easygoing music. It's pretty difficult to be upset when listening to the sweet, simple melodies that characterize the band's first album, Oh Inverted World. On this project, James Mercer marries his numerous musical influences and melds them into his own entertaining form. As a result, Oh Inverted World is a digestible, mild-mannered collection of tracks glistening with a whimsical disposition.
The Shins are not interested in pushing boundaries on this album. They are not trying to revolutionize the indie persuasion. Oh Inverted World is all about its sheer simplicity. Whether or not you buy into the presentation of this album is a matter of personal taste. Many of the hooks are not obvious from the beginning but will manifest themselves in utterly playful ways. A mixture of breezy pop tunes and heartfelt lyrics make Oh Inverted World a consistently rewarding package. Furthermore, this LP is not without its own idiosyncrasies. The interaction between the Shins' buoyant background vocals and James Mercer's distinctive voice develop into an immersive ambience on tracks like the anomalous "Weird Divide" and the pensive "New Slang".
Oh Inverted World succeeds through its diversity. Upbeat tracks like the contagious "Caring Is Creepy" immediately pull the listener into the experience, and mid-tempo numbers like "Girl Inform Me" showcase the medley of layers like organs, electric guitars, and blissful hums in the backdrop. The Shins steer clear of any extremes on this LP and deliver their music in a humble manner. There are elements of folk and pop scattered among the surfaces of some of these tracks, and, at face value, many of these songs are very lighthearted and accessible. For me, this album was not love at first listen, but as I became more familiar with the Shins brand of rock, I came to appreciate its colorful vitality.
James Mercer imparts plenty of enthusiasm throughout Oh Inverted World, especially on songs like "Know Your Onion!" and "Pressed In a Book". This enthusiasm alone makes the album as a whole cohesive and alluring. On the fast-paced "Girl on the Wing", the Shins take full advantage of their electric side, which culminates in the album's most animated track. However, the Shins also balance their inherent zest with more reserved compositions, like the beautifully delicate "The Past and Pending". A lush acoustic guitar is decorated with modest tambourines, ethereal trumpets, and jangly electric guitar. The track is surprisingly dense for an album that is fairly easy on the ears.
Some may say the Shins are playing it safe on this record, but, in its defense, the lyrics are down-to-earth, the instrumentation is unconstrained, and the all-encompassing sound is articulate and memorable. This LP never flaunts its strengths, and the songs are far from imposing. Simply put, this record can easily brighten one's day if the listener is receptive to its warmth.
Oh Inverted World is over in the blink of an eye, but the album is fun while it lasts. Many words come to mind when describing this LP: delightful, amiable, and concise. Some songs are mellow and rich, while others are exuberant and playful. Clearly, the Shins have plenty to offer and Oh Inverted World gracefully lays the groundwork for the band's sound. If you are unsure about the Shins, this album just might get you on board.
The Past and Pending
Girl Inform Me
Caring Is Creepy
Girl on the Wing