- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2007

The Shins

Wincing the Night Away

Sub Pop

The Shins won’t catch us off-guard again, and for that they can thank Zach Braff.

The “Scrubs” star inserted two Shins cuts on his “Garden State” soundtrack, hurtling the mostly unknown quartet into the public arena.

With those two numbers, the foursome became the go-to guys for tuneful melancholia, and “Wincing the Night Away” shouldn’t dampen that enthusiasm.

The group’s third album even adds a few jolts to its building buzz — but only for a spell.

“Sleeping Lessons” rides a dreamy electronic riff until it explodes into something approaching arena rock fury. It’s as close as these sleepy lads may ever come to that description. The Shins only flirt with rock ‘n’ roll. They would rather coax listeners to an altered, albeit legal, state.

The second track, “Australia,” is peppier, with hooks that twinkle and pop even if we don’t know what lead singer James Mercer is going on about. That’s for starry-eyed teens in age-appropriate depression to suss out after listening to it for the umpteenth time.

“Wincing” grows more self-assured the deeper we get, as the band plays freely with fuzzy guitars and other aural goodies with a precision that belies their youth.

“Sea Legs” sounds like the Shins’ audition as a cover act for the alternative rock band 311, but they somehow sound better than the genuine article.

Yet midalbum, the Shins get lost in their own euphoria. The early snap of “Wincing” gives way to pleasant but forgettable tracks that might work on a movie soundtrack but otherwise would never catch our attention.

The band may be overstaying its welcome here — like that guy at a party who’s funny at first but wears thin the moment he starts droning on about metaphysics and the meaning of life.

The album’s sly, impenetrable lyrics just can’t sustain the weariness of downers such as “Black Wave” and “Split Needles.”

Perhaps the underwhelming finale, “A Comet Appears,” is a last stab for the Shins to reclaim their underdog roots.

Either way, “Wincing” shows that the Shins belong in the big leagues — growing pains and all.

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