The advent of the Shins’ latest sees them with not an entirely clean bill of health. They’ve paled from the short-term convalescence that the indie film and television world has bled them into. Yet they’ve somehow grown a muscular sonic extroversion from this bloodletting, while still managing to leave their lyrical core of persistent pathos intact. James Mercer’s sweet tenor will never quite echo the nerviness of The Fall’s Mark E. Smith, but it’s more of a “hell yeah” than an “oh, hell.”
“Sleeping Lessons” is a fantastic kickoff, much in the way “Kissing the Lipless” was for Chutes too Narrow. Creeping in quietly, it assaults the unsuspecting listener’s ears with the volume cranked up to catch the Lewis Carroll references, blasting a train-chugging bass and a quick-click drumbeat with upswept, Beach Boy vocals.
The best surprise is “Sea Legs.” Containing a prominent Beck-ish bass line, flute and lounge piano chords, it features a smokier-voiced Mercer. “Red Rabbits” is another variation, but simple innovation and keyboardist Marty Crandall’s keyboard noodling is not enough to create a decent song.
Wincing amps the listener up first with its familiarity, then further with a swing into the new, but fails to push through at the end. It’s promising, but The Shins are apparently still in that awkward stage; they still have plenty of room to grow. VS