One of the most anticipated albums of 2007 is the Shins third album, "Wincing the Night Away." To get appetites whetted for that, they've released a little single EP, with their first single "Phantom Limb" and a pair of equally solid B-sides. If this is a taste of what's to come, then the Shins are still in good shape.
The title track opens with a blur of fuzz, right before James Russell Mercer starts to croon, "Frozen into coats,/White girls of the North... And they could float above the grass/In circles if they tried/A latent power I'm known to hide/To keep some hope alive." Under it is a solid, languid indie-rock melody that occasionally burst out into sweeps of guitar.
The next song is very different. "Nothing At all" is full of sharp percussion pops and a sixtyish keyboard melody -- catchy and a little fuzzy. And then there's an alternative version of the album title "Split Needles"; where the album version is more ethereal and hazy, this is a driven guitarpop melody laced with synth and killer riffs.
The Shins -- also known as the band that will change your life -- got a bit more indie-rock oriented in their second album, and they continue that trend with the songs on "Phantom Limb." If these songs are any indication, then their next album will be one of the best of the year.
Musically, the songs straddle the line between indierock, and a lazier, more languid kind of pop. Not to mention the driving guitar riffs versus the shimmering layers of keyboard, with a rattling tambourine and some fuzz thrown in for good measure. It's catchy, but in a good way.
Mercer's voice has gotten even better since the last album, and in "Phantom Limb" he sounds absolutely stunning. And the band's lyrics are reminiscent of spiky, slightly surreal poetry, full of snow, music, booze, and polymorphing opinions. "With all their pearly snapping/They close the basement door..."
"Phantom Limb" is certainly a good sign for the Shins, as listeners await the other songs they have in store. But this is a good appetizer before the main course.