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February 14, 2005 | by  | in Music | [ssba]

The Shins

James Robinson reports on a group not afraid to play pop with brains.

I had the pleasure of seeing The Shins at All Tomorrow’s Parties in Long Beach, California. At the time I had only heard the two songs in that movie with that guy from Scrubs in it (His name is Zach Braff and the film is called Garden State, for all you sticklers for detail out there). As skeptical as I am about the bolt of lightning “THE” bands that suddenly scream for my attention, I was quickly won over by a set-opening a cappella rendition of a few verses of ‘L.B.C.’ by Snoop Dogg. I knew immediately that this band would have my attention for a very long time, and if you don’t agree, the two of us are more different than I could ever imagine…(and as an even added bonus they rocked out pretty majorly).

The Shins are shit hot right now and good old Victoria is lucky enough to have a show, as they finish up their Japan-Australia excursion with five shows in New Zealand. Unfortunately, The Shins are so shit hot that we could not even get them for interview. The phoner we were promised elapsed down into an email interview and the email interview sidled backwards into an apologetic email from a publicist. Don’t blame the band for that, blame someone else (maybe even me? I’d imagine some will) [I’d blame the publicist, not James – Ed.]). It’s a cheap as chips show at $10 for students and you’d just be insane not to go, even if you’re not a huge music fan in general – come along, get far too drunk and hit on all the scenesters and the hipsters. Because it’s O-week and is anyone really interested in the music anyway?

But you probably want to know something about this great band – so here’s a brief (yet probably all you need to know) synopsis. The Shins are residents of Albuquerque, New Mexico and are essentially the brainchild of guitarist-vocalist James Mercer. What you may not know is that The Shins are no flash in the pan – in fact, The Shins have been around in some variety since I was a lot younger than I am know. The band Flake started up in 1992, and changed into Flake Music and The Shins in the late 1990s. The Shins was Mercer’s attempt to channel down the slightly more rambling style of his previous Flake Music efforts. There is a confusing musical lineage between 1992 and the cementing of the Shins as musical tour de force – members from the original Flake have left and rejoined, original Shins have been surpassed and from what I gather the current crew is pretty much what it was back in the day.

The Shins have released two albums of sensational pop. Pop isn’t a dirty word and the Shins know that – crafting melodies that soar and matching them with cryptic and beautiful wordplays. The Shins run deeper than some and it shows in their back catalogue (which sadly only consists of two albums). Where so many bands are so obvious today (AC-DC riffs and Velvet Underground lip service anyone?), The Shins take their influences and meld them with their own distinctive style. 2001’s Oh, Inverted World introduced the band. Healthy doses of early Pink Floyd, Beach Boys and Moody Blues show up in the mix, but in its own brilliant way the album never sounds derivitive and is always original. ‘New Slang’ , ‘Caring is Creepy’, ‘Know Yr Onion’ and ‘Girl Inform Me’ are pop with brains and pop at it’s very best. 2003’s follow up Chutes Too Narrow expands and betters this sound. Shades of country are thrown in and the album makes it over the bar set by the first album. No great departure, no great change but it all sounds so original still.

And that, I guess, is the beauty of this band – you can spot the influence, spot the heroes, but even after the 25th listen it still sounds so fresh and so energetic. That could also be why Oh, Inverted World has been in my stereo for 2 months now…

See this band. You would need a pretty good excuse too justify a night in – it’s first night of Orientation and you should be cutting loose. With entertainment like this – why the hell not?


About the Author ()

James Robinson is a university dropout turned journalist who likes to pretend he has an honours degree. Turn ons include soup, scarfs, a hot bath and some FM-smooth Kenny G-esque instrumental jazz. Turn offs include student politicians, the homeless, and people who pronounce it supposebly.

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