To play music for a long time, you have to surprise the people that love you—while also surprising yourself. Recorded in singer/guitarist James Mercer’s basement studio, Phil Ek’s Seattle digs, and in Oregon City with veteran producer Joe Chiccarelli (Beck, U2), Wincing the Night Away is The Shins’ third full-length album. It’s also the sound of a band growing up and out. Mercer’s infectious, indelible melodic style is still at the core, and unfaltering. But anything can happen around it—and in this case, it does. While the vocals channel the spirit of Morrissey, “Sea Legs” pairs a loping hip-hop beat with lush melody and searing guitars. Elsewhere the band toys with tweaked-out, liquid piano steeped in kaleidoscopic strings (“Red Rabbit”); fractured synth samples (“Spilt Needles”); gauzy, arpeggiated keyboards cloaking thunderous anthems (“Sleeping Lessons”); and, taking cues from early Jesus and Mary Chain albums, sweeping, fuzz-toned epics (“Phantom Limb”). Finally, “Turn on Me,” “Girl Sailor” and “Australia” are the lilting, thrilling, rollicking, rock-solid pop songs we’ve all come to covet from The Shins. Consider yourself surprised.
*If you buy the LP of this album, be aware that you’ll be able to download the songs for free to use on your less analog devices.