Music » Music Stories & Interviews

Aural Pleasure

Wincing the Night Away
The Shins
(Sub Pop)

If you’ve heard of the Shins, there’s a good-to-excellent chance that’s because Garden State told you they would change your life. The truth is, Garden State and its Grammy-winning soundtrack changed the Shins lives more than ours, transforming the group into indie deities on par with Death Cab (albeit better). They went from relative obscurity to internationally adored. One can be sure they don’t forget to send Zach Braff a Hanukkah card every year. Perhaps this past December, the card included a note that went something like this:

“Dear Zach, thanks for what you did for our career. You might’ve noticed it’s been three years since we released our last album. That’s because your handiwork built up all these expectations of us. So, rather than give in and do something big with our third album, Winces the Night Away, we’ve opted to instead craft a small, quiet affair to surprise everyone. Love, The Shins”

And that’s just what happened. Front man James Mercer could’ve made Chutes Too Narrow 2. Instead, he abandoned the delicate musicianship of that last album and the low-fi deliciousness of the first in favor of strings, keyboards, and other eclectic electronic sounds that exude a sort of bleariness — as if you were listening to Wincing’s 11 tracks through a glass window. The layered vocals, often trailed by a faint echo, only add to that effect. Mercer refused to buy into the Shins’ own post-Garden State hype; he shrunk his sound instead of expanding for the bigger venues he’s been playing.

It’s overlong, eight minutes longer than the last two albums, and Mercer’s cryptic lyrics often require more imagination than one should need, but, overall, it’s a surprising and satisfying answer to the Shins’ post-Garden State metamorphosis. And maybe ours, too. Well, just a little bit.

— Cole Haddon

Alpha Dog
Various Artists

Most of Alpha Dog’s music is film composer Aaron Zigman slumming with tracks that bite from Beck, Cali hardcore, Audioslave and contemporary R&B. And like a nerd desperately trying to fit in, Zigman’s attempts at writing “what the kids listen to” are glaringly bad.

If the lowlife hedonists and party girls that populate the cinema world of Alpha Dog put this shit on at a party, you’d be like, “WTF?” no matter how much drugs they offered you.

Fortunately, Tech N9ne is along for the ride with four tunes. Kansas City’s favorite son saves the soundtrack to this Justin Timberlake acting vehicle with the horror-rap vamp “Slither” and “Caribou Lou,” named for the cocktail but victorious in Tech’s description of what the drink makes you do: “Make baby girl come/Out of her shell and raise hell/Don’t stop till the cops come.”

— Johnny Loftus

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