The hype surrounding this band is huge, and I have to admit that I didn't really understand why when I first listened to them. The music is so subtle, the melodies are so original that on first listen the sheer brilliance of this album passed me by. It was only after about a month of listening to it that I realised how deep it had worked its way into my brain. The playing is simple, yet simultaneously richly layered and textured - if that sounds like a contradiction I apologise!
For anyone who has not yet heard anything by The Shins, they could be described as folky-poppy-indie-rock, a lazy grouping of words that utterly fails to describe the sort of rich, beautiful, sparkling songs that this band makes.
Unlike on their first album (Oh, Inverted World) where the songs were drenched in an almost psychedelic wash of reverb, feedback and studio trickery, here the production is crystal clear. All the instruments are allowed their space so that the beautifully subtle playing is (I feel) more effective and powerful than on the debut. James Mercer's gorgeously nuanced vocals are particularly well served by the production, sitting right in the centre of the mix, every subtle inflection clear to the listener.
For me, standout tracks are hard to choose on an album so brilliantly constructed. Other reviewers have pointed out their favourite tracks, so I will just pick one that doesn't seem to have been mentioned yet - Mine's Not a High Horse. This track, like all the others features beautiful melodies, excellent instrumentation and unusual but wonderful lyrics. What makes it stand out for me? That solo guitar in the bridge...how can a few notes, plucked so sparringly, carry such emotional weight?!
This album is so well written, so well played, and so full of light and energy that I challenge anyone not to fall for its charms, assuming they give it the time it deserves.