Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Shins - Wincing the Night Away

I guess I'm slightly late to writing about the new Shins album Wincing the Night Away that recently leaked (about a week ago) like a sieve that had been blasted with a shotgun. I got it off OiNK and have listened to the album twice. I read all the comments on stereogum which ran the gamut from "life changing" to "mediocre." Pretty much all of the comments bothered me on some degree.
How did music come to this? What I mean is the inability to adequately judge albums on their own merit (or lack thereof). Here is the scenario I'm referring to: Band comes out with debut LP. LP is praised as changing the face of music as we have known it. Band tours as saviors. Band goes back into studio with extremely high expectations. Band toils endlessly for months or years honing their sound and writing another 12 songs. Finally, LP #2 comes out to eager fans. The album is either: A) More of the same great music, but more finely tuned B) A different direction but executed perfectly C) A different direction but kinda "out there" D) Dreadful.

These have all happened to bands that made great music. Unfortunately we've entered the Age of the Single, Internet leaking, and rediculous scrutiny. Would someone say to The Who or Led Zeppelin back in the day and say, "yah know guys, it's all sounding great, but kinda the same...and that sucks." It just wouldn't happen. Today, if a band does something the same but exceptionally well the reviewers say "They're playing it safe. Even though it sounds good, they're not evolving as a band or trying new things to step out of their comfort zone and create something new and exciting." OR "The band has taken too many risks and gotten away from what they produced so well on their last effort. It's as if they didn't know they had something great sitting in their musical lap, and went forward trying to show off and take down Music. It's all sounding pompous and should stick to what they do best." This is the state of Pop music...unless you're Kanye West, in which case everything you do is safe from criticism.

Think about the bands that have yet to release anticipated Sophomore efforts: Bloc Party, Arcade Fire, The Shins (technically), Maroon 5, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and I could go on. All the these bands have to hit the mark perfectly to come away unscathed. You know that critics are waiting anxiously to tear them to shreds and call them out as only having one great album in their tank. I hope they all knock it out of the park. Why would I want to listen to mediocre or crappy music from some of my favorite bands? This is the definition of a Catch-22. Which is better and less damning; a new direction that might "scare" fans or the same great stuff but lacking any real musical growth?

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