Forever known as the band that would “change your life,” The Shins come from humble beginnings, dating back to 1997 when James Mercer began writing their debut album Oh, Inverted World in his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Now, two decades and four studio albums later, the band has undergone numerous lineup changes. The content has always stayed constant: Mercer eloquently exploring human frailty, failed relationships, personal anxieties and dread.
Now as the band releases their fifth record, Heartworms, we take a look back on the beloved band’s fruitful career by listening to their most essential tracks, in no particular order.
“Caring is Creepy”, Oh, Inverted World
The title track off The Shins debut record Oh, Inverted World quickly became a fan favourite upon its release in 2001. Even though it was never released officially as a single, the popularity of “Caring Is Creepy” came after Zach Braff used the track on his famous Garden State Soundtrack along with “New Slang.”
“So Says I”, Chutes Too Narrow
The first single from The Shins second album Chutes Too Narrow became widely popular after the band performed the song on the set of Gilmore Girls in 2004.
“A Comet Appears”, Wincing the Night Away
No doubt, one of the saddest songs from The Shins, taken from Wincing the Night Away. Layers really build up this one, the use of slide guitar, acoustic guitars, and the chord structure carried out through tremolo, makes for an uneasy tale about holding on for dear life while life drags you for a ride.
“It’s Only Life”, Port of Morrow
“It’s Only life” finds a person comforting a friend who is living with depression. The slow pace contrasted by bright poppy synths gives the feeling the two might be talking while strolling in the park. “I’ve been down the very road you’re walking now,” he says, but “It doesn’t have to be so dark and lonesome.”
“Fighting in A Sack”, Chutes Too Narrow
Mercer addresses human mortality, and the ways people respond to information differently in the second single from Chutes Too Narrow. The lyrics suggest we leave the “Fighting In A Sack” over the existence of human life up to the generations before us, and move forward together.
“Know Your Onion?”, Oh, Inverted World
Mercer tells the story of a pimple-faced adolescent, navigating his way through an uncomfortable time in his life in this track from Oh, Inverted World.
“Kissing the Lipless”, Chutes Too Narrow
In opening track from Chutes Too Narrow, The narrator finds himself checking in on a past relationship, asking tongue in cheek about their new life. He is unable to hold back his contempt for the friend who’s since moved on.
“Australia”, Wincing the Night Away
One of the more pop-influenced tracks from The Shins, off their 2007 album Wincing the Night Away, the lyrical content has Mercer again questioning the meaning of his existence. Are we “born to multiply?” or “to gaze into night skies,” but while you wait to discover the meaning of life “all you want’s one more Saturday.”
“Gone for Good”, Chutes Too Narrow
Another classic from Chutes Too Narrow, this southern infused song is another tale of crumbling relationship, specifically that of a narrator who is breaking off their engagement after years of contemplation.
“Simple Song”, Port of Morrow
By The Shins last album, 2012’s Port of Morrow, Mercer had picked up a new appreciation for a more production heavy album from Danger Mouse while working on their collaborative Broken Bells project. The anthemic guitars, buzzing synths, and more precise drumming makes for a much different story about love loss, sonically.
“Turn on Me”, Wincing the Night Away
Mercer again expertly ponders the nature of relationships and their effects on people over time. It’s a new-age ballad, made with fuzzing guitars, reverberating bass and bright drums.
“New Slang”, Oh, Inverted World
Of course, what is any Shins playlist without their seminal, cult-classic hit from Garden State, “New Slang.” The DIY-sounding hit is composed simply of acoustic guitar, bass a tambourine and Mercer’s renowned forlorn vocals.
The Shins new album Heartworms is available now. Listen to “Name for You” below: