The Shins – Calamity

    A moment of clarity is reached during Wincing the Night Away’s first song, “Sleeping In” — after a somewhat disoriented and dreary intro, the Shins wake us up with a splash of cold water, initially jolting but ultimately refreshing.

    Much of the band’s new album continues like this, not offering more revelatory experiences, but the feeling that James Mercer and his lonely-hearts club band have struck upon something relentlessly vivid and melancholy about the detachment between man and a meaningless world, via a woman. Existential crises abound in the narrator’s mind as he pays philosophical homage to everyone from Lewis Carroll to Friedrich Nietzsche.

    Spending most of the time confronting dark inner demons, the album quickly descends into a nightmarish slumber of nihilistic proportions, the kind where your REM levels go off the charts. That’s more than enough to allow for quasi-experimental sounds, as the band trades guitar for synth and crafts their most avant-garde song to date: “Sea Legs,” which sounds like Radiohead-cum-Elliott Smith with a 1970s funk beat.

    There aren’t many catchy tunes like 2001 crowd favorite “New Slang,” but that’s because all the songs on Wincing the Night Away are meant to accompany each other, not stand on their own. It is the Shins’ most comprehensive album, one that, like classical music, stands as a grand opus with the overarching idea broken up only by its various “movements.” It leaves a great satisfaction upon completion that makes you sit back, take a deep breath and, just for a moment, put the world on pause.

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