photo & text by nacrowe
i should start by saying im not a fan of ZACH BRAFF and i've never seen the film GARDEN STATE (FOX SEARCHLIGHT, 2004).
i know for many that reference seems to be a starting point when discussing OREGON-by-way-of-NEW MEXICO INDIE ROCK band THE SHINS. my introduction was randomly coming across their "PHANTOM LIMB" video years ago online and being blown away by the soaring melody and pure tone of singer JAMES MERCER. and to me that BRIAN WILSON-esque bittersweet way with a melody whereby it sounds dually celebratory and melancholy is what defines the band and especially their WINCING THE NIGHT AWAY (SUB POP, 2007) record. especially on tracks such as "SLEEPING LESSON," "AUSTRALIA," "TURN ON ME," "RED RABBITS," "SEA LEGS" and the aforementioned "PHANTOM LIMB."
what makes the vocals work is a LUSH, ORCHESTRATED sound that often has a SWIRLING, CINEMATIC quality as if the lyrics are merely actors playing in an overly SACCHARINE, MELODRAMATIC film from yesteryear. ive listened to this record as a soundbed alongside DOUGLAS SIRK films like WRITTEN ON THE WIND (UNIVERSAL, 1956) and ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (UNIVERSAL, 1956) on mute and it compliments it exceedingly well. MERCER's songs often utilize tight structures and MINIMAL INSTRUMENTATION that make effective selective use of SPACE and SILENCE. the minimal nature of the music puts heavy emphasis on MERCER's singing voice which often comes across as earnest and confessional while the lyrics are often IMPRESSIONISTIC and OPAQUE. its a compelling juxtaposition and that makes these haunting have a decidedly haunting and emotive dynamic.
when i think of THE SHINS and the creative output of MERCER writ large (BROKEN BELLS) i think of cleverly constructed pop songs with soaring weightless melodies in the best tradition of BRITISH INVASION bands like THE BEATLES and THE KINKS as well as later POWER POP standouts like CHEAP TRICK and BIG STAR among others. with such a seductive sound im not concerned in the least that i havent the foggiest what the band is actually singing about.
WINCING THE NIGHT AWAY is definitely worth checking out and giving a repeat listen. enjoy.