TITLE Wincing The Night Away (Sub Pop)
RELEASE DATE January 23
ADVANCE BUZZ Third time's a charm for Portland-based indie rockers
When Natalie Portman's character in 04's Garden State said the Shins' song New Slang "will change your life," it was actually the lives of the Shins members that were forever changed.
Movies, TV shows, ads - they've all been good to the Shins. The song New Slang alone has been used in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the Sopranos, Scrubs and a Guinness beer ad.
With all those royalties rolling in over the past two years, you'd expect that the once budget-conscious indie rock crew might seize the opportunity to live out their wildest Brian Wilson-inspired orchestral fantasies and go large with the new album.
Evidently not. In fact, they've actually moved in the opposite direction for Wincing The Night Away, paring down the tunes to the bare essence of their guitar, bass, drums and keyboards combo sound with a Zombies-like sense of economy.
"I just never had the song ideas for a grander work," explains singer/songwriter James Mercer from his Portland home. "Nor did I have the desire to, say, bring four string players in to play one small passage. It just didn't happen this time, although it might in the future."
That's not to say the Shins have become creatively conservative. If anything, they're more experimental, while remaining well within the parameters of accepted Shins-ness. There are no proggy jams about wand-waving witches, nor will you hear a 30-minute operetta based on the life of Alexis de Tocqueville, backed by the London Symphony Orchestra.
However, Decemberists guitarist Chris Funk brought along his oud and dulcimer to add different textures, and there's a tune called Sea Legs that sounds like the punchline to a Shins gag about Morrissey cutting a hiphop track. Hilarious, yes, but it could inspire head-nodding if bumped loudly in a tricked-out Toyota Prius.
"When I did that song, I was thinking what the hell was I thinking? When I start songs, I use a drum machine to work out beats, and then I have Jesse (drummer Sandoval) play over them. For some reason, the beat that came together was hiphop-influenced, but then these chords that came to me made me think of Beta Band," Mercer says.
"The chorus and melody that I had just seemed to lend themselves to the romantic kind of vocal delivery that Morrissey made famous. And when I hit on that, it felt really good to me - so good, in fact, that I couldn't imagine another way of doing the song.
"The whole time we were saying, 'This sounds really Smithsy,' so I tried some other things, but whatever I did only detracted from the song.
"I wanted to move away from the more traditional styles of pop we've done before and create something that might sound strange or unsettling at first yet still strikes a chord."
Mercer claims serendipity played a crucial role in making Wincing The Night Away sound the way it does.
"Marty (Crandall) was playing this keyboard part while we were working on Spilt Needles. I was fidgeting with the pitch control to see if I could emulate the wow and flutter of a tape machine, and it started to glitch out the computer. Suddenly, it was hiccuping like something about to die.
"A number of little accidents like that led to really cool surprises that we would have never have thought up and could never reproduce."