Eyewear is getting old - or maybe it's living outside North America. Having never seen Garden State, an indie Gen Y film from the 00s, I missed the scene where Natalie Portman's character infamously (at least in almost every review I've read of the band) recommends The Shins, saying "they'll change your life". Until today, my life had only been changed by 9/11, the war in Iraq, marriage, leaving Paris for London, and the death of my father and several other family members and loved ones (death didn't just visit Arcade Fire in a press release, it is real and outlines us with light and dark) since 2000 rolled us into a new world order. But the state of my garden has been at least slightly enappled, with Wincing The Night Away, the third album from the band with the name like The Smiths.
The Shins, friends, sound a little like The Smiths, when not sounding like The La's. Or for that matter The Red House Painters (hear "Summer Dress") or the recently digitally-commodified The Beatles. See Apple. They write and sing songs that have the jangling guitars of "Sister, I'm A Poet" and the melancholy-wry vocals of Morrissey. They make music, in short, that is very sweet-pop 80s, and anyone who loved /loves indie pop of that ilk will want to have them in their purview.
The album is clearly some kind of watershed moment for American music in this decade, like The Byrds were when they hit. This is subtle, folk-imbued, thoughtful and swooning stuff, with opaque lyrics and images that hint at darker forces ("towers" and "lines in the sand").
And the album, out just a few weeks Stateside, just started on the charts at #2 - a best for Sub Pop (remember Nirvana?). In other words, this is music now. And it is beautiful to listen to something so well-crafted, exquisite and - let's be honest - English (in the way The Beach Boys were the American Beatles, The Shins are the American The Smiths, only separated in time).
How good is this album? Unless a meteor hits or something, it will probably be on my top ten of 2007. Best of the year? Too soon to tell - a new Arcade Fire is coming; Bloc Party's latest has let me down a little, but may grow on me (it's too portentous).
Let's count the blessings - there are eleven tracks (of course) - only ten full-length. How many are truly great (the hype around this band is total so let's ask such things) - this is the era of a dead Anna Nicole Smith and 12 billion dollars lost-shipped to Iraq and Nazi-Nixon-Bush so it's the 60s again, but digital and worse. So how great is this music, really?
Six songs are very good: "Sleeping Lessons", "Australia", "Red Rabbits", "Turn On Me", "Spilt Needles" and "Girl Sailor". Two are good: "Black Wave" and "A Comet Appears" (though a little like Billy Joel). Two are superb. The first, "Sea Legs" is like the best Bowie song he never wrote. "I am a victim of the impact of these words" as the song goes. Wonderful, shimmering, fusing eros and mood with a great tune. And the second of these is a major masterpiece. A defining song.
"Phantom Limb" is exquisite, perfectly-turned, utterly sweet-sad, honeyed by history's dappled losses and gains, like an autumnal day on a West Coast beach, as helicopters fall from the skies, and she walks away, summer over, and you just graduated. One day, when someone makes a movie about the war, the protests, and young people in America in the 00s it may well be the song they use at some point to break hearts and recall the times, that changed in September.