January 13, 2007

Slanted Spotlight: The Shins

This section of Above The Din (pending Coz’s approval, of course) will be devoted to getting the word out about musical acts I (or we) feel are underrepresented in the current music scene. It’s about sharing what we love about bands or artists whose main catalogue falls under the radar, as they are known only by a few songs or not very well-known at all. Personal preferences can come into play here (hence the “Slanted”), and it’s more a space for recommendation than anything else. You might find the artists discussed here amazing, mediocre, or stuck outside the main spotlight for a reason. Either way, it’s good to bring them to light and open your horizons a bit.

The Shins are primarily known for their appearance on Zach Braff’s soundtrack to the movie Garden State. The excellent compilation (one of those movie soundtracks bought on its own merit) contains “Caring is Creepy” and “New Slang” from 2001's "Oh Inverted World".

These selections embody the safe middle ground between the wildly experimental tracks that dominate 2003's "Chutes Too Narrow," and softer, more soldidly composed songs such as “Pink Bullets” from "Chutes Too Narrow" and “The Past and Pending” off "Oh Inverted World". Interestingly, the Shins' second album is the site of more "weird," risky songs than their first major release.

Quirkiness is the band's strongest and weakest point, and is prevalent on both albums. Gems like "unknown quotients, you must be using potions / how else could you tie my head to the sky" from 2001's "Girl Inform Me" are endearing, while lines such as "You may notice certain things before you die. / Mail them to me should they cause / Your algebra to fail" are featured on the same album and may cause severe eye-rolling.
The tendency to string together random phrases, while a smashing success on "New Slang," can seem pretentious and inscrutable elsewhere, making them somewhat a "love 'em or hate 'em" act. At the same time, lyrics from the stunning "One By One All Day": "If every moment of our lives was cradled softly / In the arms of a strange and gentle child / I'd not roll my eyes so" stop me in my tracks with their beautiful acuity.

Despite their hyper-originality in phrasing, songs like already-discussed "The Past And Pending" and "Pink Bullets," and "Those To Come" as well, are more like ballads with interesting word choice, and create an ambient, surreal, and wistful atmosphere.

If you like unorthodox phrasing, modern poetry, and/or are a sucker for softer songs (I happen to fall into all these categories), you should give The Shins a try. It’s become a bit of a joke that I often push their music on people I know, but I feel there is excellent material here, that the band is in danger of being associated with Garden State and only that for all eternity if something is not done. Now that this vital step has been taken, I can rest easy for a while.


RyTunes said...

I don't know about Coz's view on this section, but I think it's a great idea and am going to follow it up. :) Great work!

admin said...

Absolutely wonderful work! Thank you for your inspiration and insight. Certainly (with your help and others) this will become a main feature here on AtD. Thanks for getting the ball rolling. Bravo!

Doughnutman said...

I am so stealing your idea but changing it.