10 Year Reunion: January - The Shins' Wincing The Night Away

10 Year Reunion is a monthly post that recognizes my favorite albums from each month that turn, you guessed it, hit the 10 year mark. Generally it will focus on my favorite album from each month, though I will occasionally include other notables, ones I deem necessary. I'm in control! Me! 

The Shins
Wincing The Night Away

How appropriate, that on the verge of The Shins new LP (Heartworms; due out March 10th) we get to revisit a bit of their past. Initially I was going to just do a countdown of my favorite albums of 2007, and actually, the way it worked out that may well happen considering many of my favorites came out in different months. However, overlap is unavoidable, and I thought it would be more fun to make it anniversary focused, because I love special occasions. Oddly enough, Wincing The Night Away actually was my favorite album of the year and since then has found a comfortable home in my favorite albums of all time (a list that will be available...maybe like...sometime before I die?). 

Wincing The Night Away is perfect. One of two perfect LPs released in 2007. Each year has one or two records that warrant consideration for the "perfect" label, but to actually attain it is a rarity. Right from the start you're instantly hooked with the dreamlike whimsy offered during the opening of "Sleeping Lessons," slowly building until it explodes with sunlight at the halfway mark, leaving you dancing the rest of the way. An album opener carries so much weight for me, it's all about setting the tone. It defines your experience of what's to come, an introduction to your life for the next 45 minutes. And in regards to that, "Sleeping Lessons" is, like the album that follows, flawless. 

While the record would be categorized under the blanket genre 'alternative,' I've always regarded them as more in the realm of pop-rock. Either way works, or doesn't work depending on who you talk to; for me The Shins really don't offer themselves to specificity, the the sounds are ever changing, and that's how it should be. Surprisingly, it never complicates the soundscape, each offering complementing the surrounding tracks while at the same time succeeding on it's own strengths. For instance, you have a four song stretch in the middle of the record that touches on down tempo funk, dream pop, retro rock, ambient, etc. yet in the midst of all that division, nothing has ever flowed more smoothly. It's a beautiful thing, but even more impressive, it's an extremely rare thing. 

I know my focus is generally on the atmosphere and feel of a record, a focus that will continue forever and ever amen. However, I do want to note that the strength of this record, and really all the work that band leader and only remaining original member James Mercer does, relies heavily on his lyrical prowess. Yes, the melodies he conjures are some of the best, but beneath the addictive bubble of sound lies one of my favorite lyricists of all time. He's equal parts descriptive and ambiguous, leading your mind just far enough and then releasing you to explore it in your own way. It's, dare I say...genius. I realize that I've quoted lyrics in the past in an effort to back up my description of a songs meaning, but it's an extreme rarity, and I reeeally don't like when reviews do that. I think the strength of the words lies in your own interpretation of them, especially since I often find that for me it's less the meaning and more the beauty of the wording itself. I've taken great joy in reading the lyrics while I listen, it enhances the experience and adds to the depth. If you're curious, my two favorite tracks from a lyrical standpoint are "Sea Legs" and the closer, "A Comet Appears."

It's sort of fitting that Mercer essentially disbanded the original group after this record. While this wasn't necessarily the reason, this album was the pinnacle of what they could accomplish within the confines of what they had created. They had to reform, venture to new frontiers, tackle different soundscapes, which they essentially did on the followup Port of Morrow, which was good but not great. What makes a record is the longevity of it's appeal. It's why music from 40...50...100 years ago is still being appreciated, dissected, restored, etc. And while I can't speak about Wincing The Night Away on that grand a scale, I will say that on a personal level, it's a record that in the last decade have I not only never tired of, but one I still often crave. Here's to 10 years of bliss, and cheers to many many more.