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Saturday, 9 June 2012

The Shins - Wincing the Night Away

It must say something about me personally, but I always seem to like individual artists who are undeniably 'ploughing their own furrow', (and often posess a beard). Singers like Bright Eyes, Bob Mould or Mark Oliver Everett seem completely unconcerned with fashion and release album after album of material that reflect their own personal universes rather than the generally horrible one that the rest of us live in. And similarly to these artists James Mercer produces music that is unlike anything else on the market but always fits within the 'Shins' frame of reference. He's basically decided that this is the way music should be and I'm going to make it like this...forever. I've got to say I prefer this attitude to the constant reinvention from the likes of David Bowie.

The Shin's third album 'Wincing the Night Away' follows a similar path to its predecessors, but is more consistent and enjoyable if anything. Mercer's songs seem to be written in an alien language and with a unique and beguiling structure. There's none of the simple verse-chorus business here and the compositions seem simple on the surface, but are simultaneously complex and full of depth. Likewise, the words are clearly enunciated and spoken in English yet you have little idea what he is actually saying. It's a magical mix of the strange and familiar producing pop music that sounds like it's been transferred from otherworldly inteligences than written.

Where Bright Eyes succeeds and Eels seemingly fail on a commercial level is that Conor Oberst plays the game and always puts a couple of more commercial tracks on each LP. To a certain extent 'Wincing' uses this technique, with some high impact accessible numbers contrasting the quirkier more introspective tracks, but each and every song has it's individual charms and merits. Mercer seems to have injected a little love-ability into all of his creations and it produces his most satisfying album to date.

I particularly like the jaunty sing-a-long of 'Australia', the meandering straightforwardness of 'Girl Sailor' and the epic lushness of 'Phantom Limb'. Best of all is the anthemic folky majesty of 'Sealegs' with a catchy chorus, kooky keyboard and beautiful strummed guitar. Having said that every track is a winner.

This is possibly my favourite Shins album so far. It builds on the successes of the previous two outings and adds something tangibly different to the mix, while retaining the trademark Shins sound. Here's hoping the new album ratchets up the standard even further, although it will have to go someway to top the sheer joy and passion of 'Wincing'. Go out and buy it if you don't own it already.

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