Like all the best musical arrivals, The Shins appeared unannounced with a truly great album under their collective arms.
2001's 'Oh Inverted World' and the opening track, 'Caring is creepy' marked the arrival of a rare combination of lyrical talent and invigorating songwriting style, which really hasn't been surpassed by another band since.
The 2003 follow-up 'Chutes Too Narrow' was in some ways even more impressive, slightly more expensively produced maybe but with an added depth of intention. It's kind of hard to place where 'Wincing the night away' fits into this lineage. It definitely continues the progress toward a more polished sound, in places it even brushes against the heels of it's predecessors but it is definitely not an improvement, nor does it even come close to the potential that The Shins surely possess.
There are of course some highlights, the most salient being 'Split Needles', a succinct masterpiece which sweeps from a bassline performed in a biscuit tin through a poignant example of James Mercer's opaque lyrics. 'Phantom Limb' and 'Australia' provide more traditional fayre and 'Sea Legs' although a little twee in places takes a more experimental direction.
Sometimes an album can be shaded too much by it's expectations and The Shins created a difficult reputation to live up to, it's not that this is a bad album but sometimes expectation denied leaves only a taste of disappointment.