Wednesday, February 24, 2010


The Shins are widely known for their eccentric indie-rock sound and have proved to be frontrunners in how we know post-90s alternative rock. Since their debut album Oh, Inverted World in 2001, this Portland, Oregon band has been a breath of fresh air to the music industry, both on our ears and our eyes.

The album on focus this week is their latest release, 2007’s Wincing the Night Away. The album has received many plays on my iTunes library, and for the better half of my high school senior year, annoyed the shit out everyone who called me with one of its tracks as my ring back tone (remember when those were cool?). I come back to the LP every now and then, and every time I do I find myself still decoding its album art.

The art follows a similar pattern to that of the band’s other works: abstract, adolescent shapes reserved for study hall doodling. A snapshot into some sort of alien world, the jacket to Wincing the Night Away is as fluid and dreamy as the album itself. The original medium appears to be sophisticated BIC pen on highly rare and delicate Mead Composition graph paper. But it’s that kind of honesty that invites the eye in closer, making it want to examine its imperfections (the strokes of the pen, the curvature of the lines).

The three embryonic globes, while anchored on the page, deliver a feeling of liquidity, stretching and breaking apart like soft bread in some distant universe. The shapes morph and twist while small tree-like growths extend outward. This attributes to the idea of these being odd planets in the stages of growth and development in some place very far away.

The album itself also holds to that same sentiment. “Australia” is a track devoted to everything but the country (or is it continent?) itself, rather an alternative state-of-mind. “Phantom Limb” and “Sea Legs” also twist and morph into unrecognizable ideas and foreign lyrics.

With all its perplexity, The Shins stick to their true aesthetic fashion by keeping it clean and simple. The lines are crisp and sharp, and the spaces are well defined. The band’s name and album title, which appear in the top left corner of the jacket, are perfectly placed in a slightly gestural, tightly-controlled type that flows down the page.

It’s a step away from the color-blocking, 2-dimensional work on Chutes Too Narrow and the simplistic approach on Oh, Inverted World, but this work ties in well. It will be exciting to see what the band comes up with next and how they will use art to add to the interpretation of their music.

1 comment:

  1. I always saw it as something biological, like nerve cells or amoebas.