The Shins' highly anticipated third album, Wincing the Night Away hits like a goose-down pillow with rolls of quarters cleverly placed in the center. It's a creeper, but when the songs begin to take effect--after however many days of steady listening you put into them--the impact is deeply felt, and profound.
The album opener "Sleeping Lessons" parallels the way in which Wincing gains vitality with time. The song begins with a dreamy, underwater keyboard melody, accompanied by James Mercer's hesitant yet captivating vocals, and ascends steadily until we find ourselves amidst a straight-ahead rocker. On its heels comes the bouncy British pop of "Australia," with a banjo-flecked chorus, followed by the beautifully brief and minimal "Pam Berry," which showcases Mercer's warm falsetto. "Phantom Limb" doesn't cease to impress, and "Sea Legs" provides a moment of halting psychedelia, with Mercer's Morrisey-esque vocals soaring above the catchiest bass line on the album.
There are a few lulling moments, but even these yield points of interest. "Red Rabbits" never really goes anywhere, but it demonstrates The Shins' pristine yet dreamy synthesis of sounds. "Turn on Me" is a tremolo-tinged pop song that feels nicely immediate, since it's bookended by "Black Wave" and "Red Rabbits," the album's two slowest, least-compelling numbers. "A Comet Appears" floats away beautifully with lap steel and a light French horn at the end to seal the deal. Wincing the Night Away doesn't instantly impress the way The Shins' two previous albums do, but it's bound to get underneath your skin with repeated listens. Given the amount of pressure the band has faced post-Garden State, we might have expected a more commercially oriented outing. Instead, Wincing succeeds with a dose of subtlety and charm that demonstrates just how impressive The Shins really are.