It’s impossible to write a review of Wincing the Night Away without at least mentioning Garden State and what that movie did for The Shins’ career. If it wasn’t for Zach Braff incorporating one of their songs into his film’s plot (“This song will change your life,” the Natalie Portman character informs Zach Braff’s character before playing “New Slang” from the band’s debut album Oh, Inverted World), who knows where the band might be now. They’d probably be just another indie darling, continuing to create stellar pop records whose influence would only be felt when later bands utilizing their sound emerged. It has now been three years since Garden State came out in theaters, and nearly four years since their last album, Chutes Too Narrow, was released. After numerous delays which pushed back the album’s release almost a year, we finally have an album suffused with melody, mood, and atmosphere.
Wincing the Night Away reveals a maturing band, confident in their technique and in the music that they have been making for more than 10 years. If there is a musical difference between this album and their two previous releases, it’s in the slicker, more orchestral production. Joe Chiccarelli, the album’s producer, has magnified their song’s pop appeal (as if their songs could be made even more appealing) by emphasizing the melodies and incorporating wonderful drum backbeats to carry the song along. Ten seconds into the album’s second track, “Australia,” you can’t help but tap your feet to the insatiable beat. “Phantom Limb,” the album’s first single, sounds like “New Slang,” but slightly slowed down; it still sounds infectious and gorgeous. The songs become slower, sadder, and more nostalgic as the album progresses, and it is impossible not to become entranced in the mood being evoked.
With so many bands waning in their power to improve after their sophomore album, much less after their third, it is a relief to find a band still so good after 10 years together. This album is a sounding rebuke to anyone who doubted The Shins’ capacity to produce another album just as good as their first two. It is a triumphant return after years of anticipation. For those who have never heard them before, I can only envy what they’re about to discover.