Wincing the Night Away

There are too many bands in the world that one can dismiss with “I love the first album but …” Strike The Shins from that list. The band’s latest and best album, Wincing the Night Away, capitalizes on their endearing exploration of the sonic scenery—straddling ’60s Mersey Beat with the indie-pop jangle of early R.E.M.—and taking everything that worked OK before and expanding it to exhilarating, confident heights. It’s easy to romanticize The Shins’ dream-pop confections as anthems the innocents hold hands to in the daylight hours, and yet it’s evident that James Mercer’s lyrics wrap each song in a darker, more complex shroud. “Sleeping Lessons,” the first of the album’s 11 songs, begins with a vocal effect sinking Mercer’s watery voice beneath a drugged lyrical turn: “… melt and flow / eviscerate your fragile frame / and spill it out on the ragged floor / a thousand different versions of yourself.” Wincing’s perfect first single “Phantom Limb” portrays a protagonist’s search for identity, battling geographic and emotional confines of a small town. The Shins have vibrantly crafted this decade’s smart masterwork to serve as the measuring stick for every pop band.