Friday, May 06, 2011

"So help me, I don't know I might just give the old dark side a try"

Flashback to three years ago -- for my musical tastes that's like blinking one's eyes.

I was looking for this post recently and then discovered it was on a now-defunct blog and lest I forget my musical tributes of days gone by, I'd better re-post and re-post now with edits and updates! My love of The Shins still rings true and if anything it's deepened.

The Shins is an indie rock group based in Portland, Oregon featuring singer, songwriter and guitarist James Russell Mercer, keyboardist/guitarist/bassist Martin Crandall, bassist/guitarist Dave Hernandez, drummer Jesse Sandoval, and Eric Johnson of the Fruit Bats. Their sound draws on several musical genres, including pop, alternative, alternative country, and folk.

Wincing the Night Away
by The Shins was released in January of 2007. The Shins are one of many indie-pop groups that have caught my attention in recent years, though I've only listened to this album, their most recent. It's been on the playlist a lot lately. Because of that, I decided to scrutinize and offer up some of my thoughts on the album.

Update --BTW: You can hear the tracks in these places:
Australia, Phantom Limb, Turn on Me are available on myspace
Phantom Limb, Turn on Me, and Sleeping Lessons are available on their official site.
And since I can't find good places to hear all the rest of the tracks here's a link to my You Tube Shins playlist.

1. Sleeping Lessons
This might be the song I like the least on this album and perhaps the reason I hadn't discovered the album sooner. I think the spacey, Lost in Translation-esque sound isn't really my thing. The lyrics are fine. In fact something I discovered AFTER I decided I loved this disc was the lyrics. The best moment in this song is the part that is ushered in by this phrase at "And spill it out on the ragged floor, a thousand different versions of yourself" at 54 seconds in. I do have to admit, I like these lyrics:

"You're not obliged to swallow anything you despise
See, those unrepenting buzzards want your life
And they got no right
As sure as you have eyes
They got no right "

The last part of the song from that point on is more like the rest of the album and I like that quite a lot.

Update--the spacey start no longer bothers me. I really like this song a lot! And I stand behind my love of the "unrepenting buzzards" line. Awesome. I wish I had a definitive band approved printing of the lyrics because they are hard to decipher and as I tell my students one word makes all the difference in poetry and songs. That said, I have a decided Alice in Wonderland feel as I listen to this. Though that can only be supported by one line for certain, "Off with their heads."

2. Australia
This one reminds me of The Smiths. Not sure why, exactly. This song doesn't seem to have any kind of lyrical hook or chorus... but it's great. There are moments toward the end that remind me of the late 60s music, The Archies, and all that,

"Been alone since you were twenty-one
You haven't laughed since January
You try and make like this is so much fun
But we know it to be quite contrary "

Update--Wow, what a weak commentary on what is one of the best songs on the album.
I guess I was alluding to the music of the piece in saying it had a light Archies tone, but that's not quite right, either. It's not pop-like. But it is bubbly? With a heavy message, perhaps.

After years of listening to this one I'm still not entirely sure where the title fits in, so I'll let that be. But the rest of the song seems to be about being tied down to an obligation, to a dead relationship, to "the man." The girl just wants "one more Saturday" and she's being directed to "keep your wick in the air and your feet in the fetters" and being warned that she'd be:

"damned to be one of us, girl
faced with the dodo's conundrum
I felt like I could fly
But nothing happened every time I tried"

Later in the song that bit is replaced with "android's conundrum".... basically a bird with wings who cannot fly; a robot that is replicating life, but cannot truly "live."

This next part offered new revelation... I'm thinking all kinds of passivity accepting of the scraps or dregs life offers and of gentle oppression.

"He never dreamt of such sterile hands,
You keep them folded in your lap,
Or raise them up to beg for scraps,
You know, he's holding you down,
With the tips of his fingers just the same,
Will you be pulled from the ocean,
But just a minute too late,"

Again the next line suggests a life starved of joy. One that is quietly, suffocatingly, oppressively lived (truly my worst nightmare--how did Mercer know?)

"Watching the lantern dim starved of oxygen
So give me your hand and let's jump out the window"

It just really seems to be screaming screw the normal life, the life you could have with the ordinary Joe and be free... but be free with me.

3. Pam Berry
I don't like this track as well. The sound, maybe? Here are the full lyrics to the 56 sec. song.

"This lass
Some fifteen odd years
Is widely known
To have spat
In her teacher's lap
And will not take it back
For now I see
How after all their crap
She rightly came to that."

Update--I don't dislike the lyrics or the message. Again it's a nice little rebellion piece. As a song it doesn't do much on it's own but it serves as a nice little intro to the next song or bridge between each of them.

4. Phantom Limb
The lyrics of this song are sort of bizarre and difficult to meld together to find some kind of deeper meaning.. I guess I'm not trying that hard.. but I will say I admire any song that uses words like this: pilfered, latent, trite, zombie, and goathead. Actually, I take that back. I do have a sense of the meaning of the song, but it's full of allusion I don't understand.

Here's a snippet of lyrics that I think sum this one up a bit more:

"So when they tap our Sunday heads
Two zombies walk in our stead
This town seems hardly worth our time
And we'll no longer memorize or rhyme,
Too far along in our crime,
Stepping over what now towers to the sky,
With no connection "

Update-- I do think I understand this a bit more especially if Pam Berry is any kind of introduction. I get the impression it's about a girl who is subjected to the all-powerful mean girls of her high school:

"And they could float above the grass
In circles if they tried
A latent power I know they hide
To keep some hope alive
That a girl like I could ever try
Could ever try

So we just skirt the hallway sides
A phantom and a fly
Follow the lines and wonder why
There's no connection"

And if I weren't already convinced that it's about high school angst, then the line about "rolling eyes" and "pilfered booze" seals the deal.

5. Sealegs
This one is not one of my first favorites but I'm liking it better all the time. I like the imagery it brings to the concept of a love relationship.

"Girl, if you're a seascape
I'm a listing boat, for the thing carries every hope.
I invest in a single lie.
The choice is yours to be loved"

"Of all the intersecting lines in the sand
I routed a labyrinth to your lap."

Update -- "I invest in a single lie" I would strongly urge against this. Especially if you are planning to go all in. There's a very good chance you'll lose.

"We've no time to start a protocol
To hem us in."

And I like that line. Please don't "hem" me in. :)

6. Red Rabbits
Update/Original blended--This one has a strange opening bit too, much like "Sleeping lessons." Listening to it again, I can't help be see sexual images in everything. Perhaps I've been "in the desert" too long, but you listen again, you have to see what I mean.

"The necessary balloon lies a corpse on the floor..."

"We've pissed on far too many sprites
And they're all standing up for their rights"

I really like the "sound" of that last line, though it makes makes me think of that Oscar nominated foreign film from 2007, Pan's Labyrinth. This is a line that's repeated in the song.

"Born on a desert floor you've the deepest thirst
And you came to my sweet shore to indulge it"

This just has a great image to it.

This one too:
"So help me, I don't know I might
Just give the old dark side a try"

Honestly what the hell are "red rabbits"? Is this another Alice in Wonderland reference? I looked online at what some folks think this song is about and WOW, wildly different interpretations and not one like what my brain was thinking... So it goes.

7. Turn on Me
This was the first song I loved on this album and not for any particular reason. I do like the first few bars of the song. It reminds me of some 60s songs or some country song... it resonates. I like all the lyrics in this one. Here's a favorite clip:

"So affections fade away
And do adults just learn to play
The most ridiculous, repulsive games
All our favorite ruddy sons
And their double-barreled guns
You better hurry
Rabbit run run run
'Cause mincing you is fun
And there's a lot of hungry hatters in this world (or is it there's a lot of hungry howlers in this one cell?)
Set on taking it over
But brittle thorny stems
They break before they bend
And neither one of us is one of them"

Update--Oh my, now I'm seeing Peter Rabbit in this one. "Mincing you is fun" and "the tears will never mend" (maybe I have the lyrics wrong?) and the reference to the Hatters make me think of Alice in Wonderland. What the heck. Is this deliberate or is my brain stuck?

"The worst part is over,
Now get back on that horse and ride."


Actually this remains my favorite song on the album. It's one of the few songs to which I know most of the words in the sing-a-long style I love. I find the Shins songs aren't typical of the kinds of catchy little tunes that sort of embed in the brain. Instead each seems to be a single story, picture, word craft that isn't full of repetition and lyrical hooks at least not in the same trite way I typically fall subject to. And that doesn't make me love it more or less... just differently.

8. Black Wave
This one has minimal lyrics and yet seems just as poetic as the rest. While it's not my very favorite, it's still not one I'd skip.

Update-- Here are the lyrics as far as I can tell.

"This goose is cooked, these tongues are tied,
Around the block and airborne blind,
But looking on the brighter side,
There's far less to which I’d be obliged,

In the meadow where the black breeze blows,
Where underneath the waves, you were most alone,
Can you hear a subtle, aching tone?
Through the water, through the Earth, trimmed up bone,

Looking on the brighter side,
Looking on the brighter side,
Looking on the brighter side,
Looking on the brighter side."

Again, this is some dismal business. It seems to suggest heartbreak or something that's now over. but this line "But looking on the brighter side, There's far less to which I’d be obliged" seems to say it all.

9. Split Needles
For some reason, the music in this one appeals less to me. It's funny to say that since so many of the songs are alike in sound. It's hard to put my finger on it.

Update-- I have to laugh. Most of these songs say that I like it less than others. Which begs the question which song or songs do I really love? Right now, I'd say all of them. I love this album. It's complete and good. But when I originally posted about this had I listened to it one or two times? I mean, what the heck? Lame reviews, Carm. Perhaps, these updates are no better, but it's still a fun exercise listening to the full album and reflecting song by song on a happy Saturday.

This one reminds me of a song by the Police. Not sure which song. But there's a feel.

This song has a great image of feeling out of control:

"It's like I'm perched on the handle bars,
Of a blind man's bike,
No straws to grab, just the rushing wind,
On the rolling mind"

Also there are some bizarre sorts of cartoon painting of holes and jumping in going on in this song. At least that's how my brain is interpreting it.

10. Girl Sailor
This is a good one. It has more of a clear story than any of the other songs. And the sound is great. Totally my kind of tune. "Oh girl, sail her, don't sink her"

Update-- I officially heart this song. It's freaking awesome. I think it's the story of a girl who has been in control too long and been too good at it and tends to burn bridges and sink ships and walk away.

"You've been at the helm since you were just five,
While I cannot claim to be more than a passenger,"

And there's a boy who's out there admitting he can't give her anything if this is her view:

"You've made it through the direst of straits alright,
Can you help it if plain love now seems less interesting?"

Maybe? Maybe not? I don't know. But I love the song. She sounds scrappy.

I also love the line "never give it more than a frowning hour."

11. A Comet Appears
This is a dismal ditty, but it's still worth a listen.

"One hand on this wily comet,
Take a drink just to give me some weight,
Some uber-man I'd make,
I'm barely a vapor"

Update-- This is a wee bit more of the dismal. But I like the idiomatic images: pie in the sky, hitching posts, sinking stones...

"But with each turn,
It's this front and center,
Like a dart stuck square in your eye,
Every post you can hitch your faith on,
Is a pie in the sky,
Chock full of lies,
A tool we devise,
To make sinking stones fly"

Yep. And that's all she wrote. Thank you, Shins for the lovely album. When is the next one?

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