When Natalie Portman placed headphones onto Zach Braff's head in Garden State and whispered "this song will change your life" she didn't know how prophetic her words were. The song, of course, was The Shins' "New Slang" from their 2001 debut Oh, Inverted World. Though the thought of a particularly simple song from a great, yet revivalist, album restructuring someone's life was laughable, it proved true for The Shins themselves. Overnight they went from being a small, respected pop band to having their names etched into the margins of junior high history class notes.
Their first new album since their popularity exploded, Wincing the Night Away is the sound of a band maturing. The results, however, are mixed. Where previous Shins albums mixed slower, introspective songs, like the aforementioned "New Slang," with jubilant ravers, Wincing largely resides in the land of mid-tempo. Though this allows the band to demonstrate their attention to detail, the album comes across as too subdued for its own good. In fact, the unassuming nature of most songs makes it frustratingly easy to have the album reach its end without even realizing it was playing.
Wincing shouldn't be written off entirely, though. The Shins' songwriting has never been so sophisticated, even though many of the songs themselves fail to leave an impression. A few songs like "Australia" and "Turn on Me" use this new complexity to great effect. All of this makes Wincing the Night Away a competent, but ultimately forgettable album unable to live up to its potential.