By now, it’s a wonder that “James Mercer” isn’t a household name. After all, he arguably is “The Shins,” but hiding behind a band name like cohorts – Conor Orberst (Bright Eyes) and Sam Beam (Iron & Wine)- doesn’t help his ego and fame. But it’s obvious Mercer doesn’t care about such stuff. The Shins are a four piece and its bad enough for Mercer that Urban Outfitters nation will make “New Slang” a jubilant sing-along in 1,000-3,000 seat music halls on the band’s upcoming tour.
With Wincing The Night Away, their first new album in over three years and first since Garden State (yeah, you know the story), The Shins are suddenly in Death Cab for Cutie territory – indie band gone Saturday Night Live and hamming up magazine covers. Where Mercer before sang of feeling lonely with dirt in his fries, he now has found light in teenage lesbians (“Phantom Limb”) and un-jaded love songs (“Sea Legs” and “Girl Sailor”). On the buoyant “Australia,” Mercer does his best Morrissey and although “Phantom Limb” contains taboo lesbian subject matter, (not known until Mercer revealed it recently in an interview), the track is classic “indie pop” Shins, and perhaps their meatiest single yet. The atmospheric “Sealegs” builds around Moby-esque synthesized effects, while the tender ballad “Red Rabbits,” sounds mildly 80’s. There are even odd experimental numbers, as in the 56 second “Pam Berry” or the cloudy “Black Wave.” However, when Mercer sings “I have to paint myself a hole and fall inside” on “Spilt Needles,” he reminds us why The Shins have meant so much for all the pained and wannabe-loners out there.
Although Wincing the Night Way may not offer as much to grab onto lyrically as Oh Inverted World or Chutes Too Narrow, The Shins have created a new wall of sound that will surely keep them relevant and James Mercer as just another guy with loads of shy talent.