Sound — 10
The Shins have varied their style a bit with this new work of theirs, as seen from the genres of their tracks. For instance, we see the usual bouncy guitar sounds in Australia, yet we see a more ambient sound in Sea Legs, where they use a Hip-Hop-like sound. The band took a bit more time recording this new, longer album, which gave them, according to Mercer, "more time to develop their ideas". That being said, the album does resemble previous ones in certain aspects. For instance, we could see similarities between "Phantom Limb" and "Girl On The Wing", or between "Australia" and "New Slang", because of their backing chords, and because of their rhythms. This experimenting with different sounds, which Mercer said he is pleased with, is the result of several delays in the release date of this album, from mid 2006, to late 2006, and finally to early 2007. Mercer however insists it was well worth it, and I'm inclined to agree. It carries a refreshing sound in the new styles, since the unusual sounds in, say, Red Rabbits, mark a change of musical direction, in contrast with the previous album, which roughly followed the same trend as the first one. The album's first single, Phantom Limb, talks about a young lesbian couple's problems in their small town. Hernandez's guitar here plays a major role, giving the song its general tone. The single broke several band records upon release, such as being the first to reach US Top 100. All in all, this album brings a great mix of sounds to the table, and gives Mercer and the band a chance to experiment with different styles. In my personal opinion, the result is a very good blend of different types of music, and their best album so far. I do note, however, that at first it didn't grow too fast on me. Given time, it went out to be an excellent record overall.
Lyrics — 9
Mercer of course impresses us again with his incredible voice, albeit somewhat distorted in in some tracks, such as Sleeping Lessons. Nevertheless, he brings a very clear and well defined sound to the songs, making the lyrics very understandable. The lyrics of this album could be considered a full story, starting at Sleeping Lessons and ending at A Comet Appears. This story would be about a young boy who is in conflict with everything society represents, but can't explain it until the very end. The story would also mention concepts such as Nietzsche's bermensch ("born to multiply"), in classical Shins fashion. Lyrics are, as always, very well written, using accurate, albeit not wildly used terms, such as conundrum, spittle, etc. The lyrics at some points do seem detached from the music, for example, I think Pam Berry's lyrics don't correlate well with the sounds in the background. This is, however, personal opinion. Indeed, the sounds in Pam Berry do serve a purpose, which is to add an introduction to the next track, Phantom Limb. All in all, the lyrics in this album are very deep, and require lots of reviewing to see what Mercer meant in each one, and how it fits in the grander puzzle of the entire album.
Overall Impression — 9
This album is not as commercial-sounding as others of it's time, which is something to be expected from the band at this time. They focus on experimenting with new sounds and seeing what fits best, instead of what the public will most like, or what will sell more, or whatever. We have yet to see if, as the band develops, their albums will be shifted more towards the popular sound. This is very important, too, seeing as this is the band's last album at Sub Pop Records. Their change (or lack of change) in record labels may prove a turning point in their musical styles. Personal picks from the album are Australia, which I like for being reminiscent of their old sounds, especially the well-known New Slang, Turn On Me, for the unique guitar sounds, and the correct fusion of guitar and drums in it (and, of course, Mercer's voice), and Phantom Limb, for the general active, fast paced sound of the track. These choices are also the ones that may resemble previous albums the most. If I had to pick between the new, experimental sounding tracks, my pick would definitely have to be Sea Legs, with its firm beats and clear voice. There are, however, a few tracks which in my opinion aren't as good as I would expect from The Shins, but not because of the quality, but because I still haven't gotten used to this new sound. Girl Sailor comes to mind with this; maybe with some more time listening to the album I'll come to like it a bit more. What I love about it is that, when changing styles, they did it perfectly, but when using their old sounds, they did an awesome job, powering up what I most liked about the band in previous songs such as Caring Is Creepy and The Past And Pending, and in the general tone of their previous albums. I'd definitely want to keep a copy of this album, since it makes for a very good listening session, and songs such as Australia could cheer anyone up in a bad day, in the typical Shins fashion.