January 13, 2007


Hanging Up The Shins: Will Sub Pop's unprecedented push of the Shins' new album usher the indie darlings right out the door? (Brian J Barr, 1/10/07, Seattl;e Weekly)

While Sub Pop's past roster has boasted household names such as Soundgarden and Nirvana, the Shins have done as much to raise Sub Pop's profile as Sub Pop has to raise the Shins'. When courting new bands, Jasper says Sub Pop uses the Shins as an example of the label's marketing acumen. And because the Shins' prior releases, Oh, Inverted World and Chutes Too Narrow, have sold about 1 million copies, Sub Pop has officially been able to leave grunge in the past, where it belongs.

On Jan. 23, Sub Pop will release the Shins' third album, Wincing the Night Away, an LP that could prove to be the label's most commercially successful release ever. But the celebration could be short-lived: Wincing also marks the Shins' last record under contract for Sub Pop, and the label is well aware of the major-label reps that have been courting the band.

"I really don't see any area where Sub Pop can't do for us what the majors can, except for maybe commercial radio," says Mercer. "There's just that weight that the majors can throw around still. But to me, Sub Pop is just as good as Capitol Records right now."

James Mercer is sipping roasted rice tea and slurping miso soup at Dragonfish Cafe on Seventh Avenue and Pine Street in downtown Seattle. He admires the aroma of the tea, swirling it in the glass and sniffing the nose like fine wine.

"Doesn't this smell good?" he asks, rhetorically.

He's wearing jeans and a slate gray sport coat, his square jaw shaded by a couple days' growth of facial hair. His face is framed by dark-rimmed glasses and mildly tousled hair, the combination of which gives him the air of a young professor.

"I wanted to make a record that would kind of challenge our fans," Mercer says. "But I didn't want it to be completely alienating."

The record the Shins have made, Wincing the Night Away, is a boldly produced, sonically dense record that stretches the band's retro pop sound into broader, spacier territory. Anyone looking for the jangly, Brian Wilson-esque numbers of Chutes Too Narrow will need to check their expectations at the door. While the single "Phantom Limb" has been doing very well on the independent radio charts, folks who pick up the record unknowingly might be dazed by the synthesizer drips and organ whirls the band employs. There is a hip-hop backbeat to "Sea Legs" that recalls the Beta Band, and the space-pop interludes of "Red Rabbits" and "Pam Berry" are sure to please the Bonnaroo set.

"I think it's one of those records that people will put on and think is maybe boring at first," Mercer says. "But after a couple listens, it'll sink in and they'll get it."

"I think [Mercer] could have just made Chutes Too Narrow again," says Manning. "But he didn't. He really dug in and brought out a lot of the band's strengths that probably nobody had considered before."

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 13, 2007 7:04 AM
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