MADELEINE BRAND, host:
In the 2004 movie "Garden State," Natalie Portman proclaimed, "The Shins, they will change your life." And with that line, life changed for The Shins.
(Soundbite of song, "Caring is Creepy")
The Portland, Oregon, group wasn't really known outside the indie rock world. But after the movie came out, they sold more than a million copies of their first two albums. They're back now with album number three, "Wincing the Night Away."
Music critic John Brady has this review.
JOHN BRADY: James Mercer, the lead guitarist and singer of The Shins grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, listening to such heroes of '80s and '90s alternative music as Echo & The Bunnymen and My Buddy Valentine. "Wincing the Night Away," The Shins's latest album, resonates with the sounds of Mercer's earlier inspiration. Listen to the Morrisey-inspired vocals on this track.
(Soundbite of song, "Sea Legs")
Mr. JAMES MERCER (The Shins): (Singing) Of all the churning random hearts under the sun, eventually fading into night.
BRADY: Such echoes of an earlier pop era are a delight. But whiffss of musical nostalgia aren't the only pleasure of "Wincing the Night Away." I was also caught up in the arresting images included throughout the album. In one song, Mercer sings about painting himself a hole and falling inside. In another, about burnt sage in a forest of bygones. And in this song, he conjures up a gunnysack full of red rabbits.
(Soundbite of song, "Red Rabbits")
Mr. MERCER: (Singing) Out of a gunnysack of red rabbits, into the crucible to be rendered an emulsion. And we can't allow a chance they'd restore themselves, so we can't make it easy on you. Undaunted, you bathe in hollow cries. The boils were swollen, sunburned eyes.
BRADY: These intense visuals make "Wincing the Night Away" sound like a script to a particularly bizarre animated film. Mercer and his bandmates Marty Crandall, Dave Hernandez and Jesse Sandoval make strikingly accessible music. Mercer has a clean, enjoyable voice that exudes sensitivity. There's no whiskey-induced rasp to be heard. His bandmates supply compositions full of hooks and lovely melodies.
(Soundbite of song, "Australia")
Mr. MERCER: (Singing) Born to multiply. Born to gaze into night skies. All you want's one more Saturday. Well, look here until then. They're gonna buy you a nice time. So keep your wick in the air and your feet in the fetters.
BRADY: But the lyrics reveal a different side of The Shins, a darker rebellious vision lurks in the words, one charged with smoldering anger at social conventions and relationships gone awry. Here's "Turn On Me," a song where Mercer stokes the calls of resentment.
(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 you. Though I knew you masked your disdain -
BRADY: Sometimes I catch myself wishing the band would let this discontent seep into their music and give it a noisier edge. Harmony is great, but dissonance has its charms, too. But in the end, I like the way the band swings back and forth between the niceness of its pop melodies and the dark hues of its lyrics. This tension gives "Wincing the Night Away" an added spark.
BRAND: John Brady is a writer living in Los Angeles.