The Shins' New CD: More of the Good Stuff

The 2004 movie Garden State transformed the Shins from a little known indie-rock band to a mainstream sensation. Their eagerly awaited new album is out today. The album shows the Shins expanding their sound without losing the melodic pop-writing they're known for.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The new CD from the indie rock band The Shins has been highly anticipated. It's the band's third album.

Our critic Will Hermes has this review.

(Soundbite of song, "New Slang")

WILL HERMES: The Shins will forever be remembered as the band in Natalie Portman's headphones in the movie "Garden State," when in the waiting room of a clinic, she breathlessly explains to Zach Braff that you got to hear this one song, it'll change your life, I swear. That song is The Shins's masterpiece, "New Slang." And I found her claim completely plausible.

(Soundbite of song, "New Slang")

Mr. JAMES MERCER (The Shins): (Singing) And if you'd took to me like a gull takes to the wind. Well, I'd jumped from my tree, and I'd danced like the king of the eyesores. And the rest of our lives would have fared well.

HERMES: The Shins will always be measured against this song and a few others that are ridiculously melodic and structurally flawless in the similar way. So the bar is high for The Shins's new record, "Wincing the Night Away," which is one of those sonically adventurous record a band makes after its mastered basic song craft, kind of like the Beatles' "Revolver" or the Beach Boys' "Pet Sound."

(Soundbite of song, "Split Needles")

Mr. MERCER: (Singing) I'll find myself another burning gate, a pretty face, a vague idea I can't relate. And this is what you get for pulling pins, out of the hole, inside the hole you're in. It's like I'm pressed on the handlebars of a blind man's bike. No straws to grab, just the rushing wind on the rolling mind.

HERMEN: Okay. They're using some weird old keyboard textures, there's bazookey, hammer dulcimer, ukulele. There are also some odd song structures. And singer James Mercer is pushing his voice up in to campy new territory, sometimes sounding a bit like David Bowie or like Morrissey on the song "Phantom Limb."

(Soundbite of song, "Phantom Limb")

Mr. MERCER: (Singing) And they can float above the grass, in circles if they tried, a latent power I know they hide, to keep some hope alive, that a girl like I could ever try, could ever try.

HERMES: But the lyrics thread familiar Shins's territory. Like "Turn on Me," which is about the appallingly grown-up practice of having to pretend things aren't appalling when they clearly are.

(Soundbite of song, "Turn On Me")

Mr. MERCER: (Singing) You can fake it for a while, bite your tongue and smile, like every mother does an ugly child. But the stars are leaking out, like spittle from a cloud, amassed resentment counting ounce and pound. You're entertaining any doubt, because you had to know that I was fond of you, fond of Y-O-U, though I knew you masked your disdain.

HERMES: So are there any songs on "Wincing the Night Away" as good as "New Slang" that are excellent enough to change Natalie Portman's life all over again? It took a few listens to be sure, but now I'm adding "Spilt Needles," "Phantom Limb," and "Turn on Me" to my iPod playlist of perfect Shins songs. The band maybe expanding their palette, but the Shins still operate as a creating melodic beauty was the most radical act in rock and roll.

BLOCK: The new album from The Shins is called "Wincing the Night Away." Our reviewer is Will Hermes.

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