The Shins — Wincing The Night Away


Not a book, but nonetheless obtained by extra-legal means. Piracy baby!

SubPop is set to drop The Shins’ third album Wincing The Night Away in January of 2007, but the thing leaked like a sieve this weekend. Similarly, Of Montreal’s album Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, set for a January release, leaked over the last two weeks. I don’t understand why these labels delay releases so long after the record’s been mastered. It’s almost impossible these days to keep a record from leaking–although Thom Yorke managed to keep his solo record The Eraser from leaking right up until it was released.

On paper, The Shins are the type of band I would love to hate. They write tight pop songs with keen melodies and spare harmonies with frequent nods to classic 60s acts like The Kinks, The Beatles, The Zombies and The Beach Boys (unlike every other indie band made up of four white guys). They are name-dropped in the epitome of bad indie films, Zach Braff’s Garden State (Natalie Portman’s character declares them “life-changing”). They appeared in an episode of The Gilmore Girls as a band playing to a club full of improbably ecstatic springbreakers in Ft. Lauderdale.

Despite all of this, I like them quite a bit. Their songs are catchy in a good way. They certainly aren’t re-inventing the wheel, but if you’re going to listen to an indie rock band, you might as well listen to The Shins. All that said, I like their new album a lot, much better than their last Chutes Too Narrow actually, which I thought was too airy. Wincing evinces some growth in songwriting and arrangements, and on the whole the production is much fuller than the past two albums. Wincing features a more prominent use of atmospheric sounds. Synthesizers are utilized to greater advantage advantage with respect to both melodies and atmosphere, and the band even brings in what I believe to be a small string section one one song. They even play with vocal loops on this record.

I don’t know if this band will ever top their first record Oh, Inverted World, a record that somehow was simultaneously breezy and profound, and produced at least four songs that can never go wrong on a mixtape. I’ve listened to it a few times, but there doesn’t seem to be a “New Slang” or “Know Your Onion” on this album. Wincing however seems to work better as a whole album than The Shins’ previous efforts, and the stronger production and fuller arrangements will probably earn the group a broader fanbase.


Graham Greene and Donnie Darko

The Portable Graham Greene, ed. Philip Stratford. I haven’t read a single story in this beautiful Viking Portable Library edition, save “The Destructors,” (full text here) (sorry, the page is no longer up [3/07]. Ed.) which I only read because it was referenced in one of my favorite movies, Donnie Darko.

I found this one in another teacher’s classroom. My uncle Lee had just given me a copy of Greene’s The Quiet American, which I finished in a weekend; it’s a slim, spare novel, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, despite the fact that Brendan Fraser was on the cover (the book was re-released to coincide with a film adaptation that I never saw). Anyway, I’d just read TQA, and I saw this beautiful Viking Portable Library edition (I’m a big fan of VPL), so I surreptitiously absconded with it only to never read it. A meaningless theft?

Anyway, last year a new director’s cut of Donnie Darko came out; the wife and I saw it at the San Marco Theater, I was reminded of the book, and read “The Destructors.” “The Destructors” is a simple story about a teenage gang that destroys a beautiful old house from the inside to the outside. “The Destructors” functions as an abyss structure or reading rule that informs the text-proper of Donnie Darko (it’s assigned reading from an English teacher). If you’re a fan of this movie (and if you’re not, why not?!) check out this story; it’s short and to the point. Flipping through it again, I realize that I should probably put The Portable Graham Greene back on the “To Read” stack.

If you haven’t seen Donnie Darko, enjoy the following review courtesy The Comic Critic.

Tim Hecker — Harmony in Ultraviolet

Yes yes yes. I know I know I know. It’s not a book. It’s an album of music. But see now so and yes–it’s just so beautiful. It’s the best “reading music” I’ve come across in a long time. And, in keeping with the theme of this blog, I did obtain it by extra-legal means (it comes out Oct 16, so go buy it from your local record store!)


Harmony in Ultraviolet is Hecker’s third or fourth album, depending on how you want to count his EPs and sundries. This music might be described as “ambient,” although I’m not sure I like that term. Harmony‘s tracks seem to contain impossible oppositions; they hover and sink, they pulsate but are static, they are digital-ice and analog-heat, they express the abstract in a concrete mode. Why write about it here? Well, really, I just love an album that lends itself to reading, and Hecker’s new disc is fantastic to read to.