Another great band, down the drain

Wed 1/24/2007

I try my best to keep this blog fairly positive, but I gotta say, I think the new Shins album is SO WEAK. I've been listening to it a lot lately, and to their previous albums, trying to figure out why I dislike it so much. And I've come to a few conclusions about music specifically, but also other forms of art.

Wincing the Night Away is easily the Shins's most "polished" album to date. The production is so slick, with so many layers and filters and added reverb, and flutes and strings and extra CRAP that it doesn't even seem like the sounds were made by humans. When I listen to this album with my headphones on, with the right volume level, it doesn't sound like I'm listening to musicians making music. It actually sounds like it's just happening inside my head.

Now, for the band I can understand that evolution of sound. I imagine it's akin to the experience I have had with Comics. When asked what their favorite issue of Phase 7 is, most people will tell you that it's #003. It is a fun, fast-paced story with adventure and jokes a plenty. It is also drawn with STICK FIGURES. The ammount of "production" between the story being in the artist's head and going to the reader's eye is minimal, almost non-existant! (I didn't script or even pencil that comic!) This would be the musical equivalent of a "low-fi" recording, or a demo.

But as a Comics artist, drawing with stick figures quickly became uninteresting. I wanted to try and improve my art and explore some of the other, more subtle aspects of Comics that can only be discovered with preplanning (scripting) and refinement (re-penciling things until they are right, THEN inking them).

I imagine it is this same feeling that drives so many bands to "improve" their sound by upping the production. But in doing so, they distance themselves from their listeners and make the songs "stiff" and generic-sounding! This probably also just happens from the recording process; having to sing the same song over 100 times to get it just right. The first time, you feel it, it matters. And the 100th time you are sick of the song. And I really believe that comes through in the recording.

Now, maybe this is all just subjective, and it's due to my predilection for low-fi sound, but seriously! How many times have you gotten into a band, and their first couple of albums are awesome and then suddenly their next album is so polished and slick that it totally sucks all the life and soul out of the songs? That scenerio describes 99% of the bands I listen to.

I mean, it is a pretty common observation that most band's FIRST album is their BEST because they have the most time to develop their sound for it (since the subsequent albums are usually under contract and must be produced on deadline). I'm sure over-production is also due to pressure from record labels. The music industry... UGH!

How many band's THIRD album is better than their FIRST album? I see two catagories: 1) Bands that are not necessarily great musicians to start out with, and who improve with each album as they learn their craft (ie Beck, Harry and the Potters) and 2) Bands that are so inventive and explore so many different styles that each album has something new and exciting to offer (ie The Beatles, They Might Be Giants)

Anyways, I don't know where I'm going with this. I guess I just wanted to say that I'm so disappointed with "Wincing The Night Away." I was totally looking forward to another awesome album from the Shins and instead it is a totally IGNORABLE album. There is not a single track that I could call "awesome" or even "fun" and that totally sucks.

4 comments on this entry

Hey ALec
Funny, I just got THe Shins CD yesterday. Listened to some. I can see what you mean about it being VERY polished. Will give it a few more listens and see what I think.

WAM Jan24

Haven't bought the album yet myself (and maybe I won't...), butI did see them on SNL a couple of weeks ago, and had a similar thought about how "polished" they were. It was a very streamlined performance.

Cam Jan25

overproduction is such a sin--- it's like they're trying to make up for something that's lacking... and 'oh, inverted world' was such a wonderfully executed album, there's totally no need for them to do that!!!

this new album is everywhere, too--- there was even a special tiny stand on the kim's register counter [in addition to copies on the new releases shelf] when i stopped by astor place today!!!

will be e-mailing you comics questions soon (:)> peep!

stephanie Jan25

Very sad to hear that about the new Shins.

As far as your phase 7 metaphor, I'd just like to point out that your material for #3 was so great, and so rich, that it influenced your decision to draw it simply. You had a lot to squeeze in, and you didn't want to skip anything because it was so good, so you decided to stick-figure it.

In that sense, the quality of the material was responsible for both the basic artistic style and the popularity of the story. Makes sense.

Also, you had some of the most charming characters in #3... Grizzo, Mark, Uncle Dave, Las Vegas... and that always sexy (even as a stick-figure) GCB!

:)

gcb Jan31

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