Banging away inarticulately in my little corner of central Sweden, I’m often unaware of how far an insignificant blog can reach. Over the past months I’ve occasionally had cause to mention some of the world’s less populous nations. This is immediately followed by a visit, cyberly speaking, from a resident of said nation, conjuring a charming image of websurfers around the globe hunched over their laptops like short wave radio enthusiasts, anxiously waiting for the blessing of a mention by Kid Slender.
And so it is with the shameless intention of boosting my readership that I now send out a (forgive the inverted commas, but I’m far too old to be saying this) “big up” to my readers in Barbados and the Faroe Islands and a massive “shout out” to the peoples of Bhutan, Guyana, Djibouti (love the flag you guys) and Haiti. “Respect”.
Some time ago I threatened to get out the guitar. However, being made of nine parts good intentions and one part inertia this never happened. Until, that is, I stumbled across the chords to micro Sub Pop hit “the Past and Pending” by The Shins. For several weeks now I have been cackling hideously at the sheer joy of being able to piece together this fragile little tune, a tune I’ve been taking for granted for years which has suddenly taken off its horn-rimmed glasses, shaken out its hair and revealed its true self. My God Miss Jones, you’re beautiful!
The Shins, for some reason, remain something of a hard sell. All Music describes them as “one of indie pop’s most acclaimed and beloved acts”. They can boast two billboard top 10 albums, although their 19 year long career has so far produced a Kid Slender inertia-like four long players. Their songs have graced slacktastic Hollywood movie “Garden State” prompting one character to describe them as life changing. And yet during all that time I have never heard them on the radio. I have never met anyone who admits to owning one of their records. And believe me, I know people who own records. I have never seen an advert for a live performance. OK, I acknowledge that the swedish county of Värmland is probably not the first stop on the tour itinerary of yer average life changing New Mexico combo, but still.
Unfair as it is, I’m sure even they would admit to a lack of any definable image being a major contributor to their anonymity. How else to explain the photo shoot that tried to adress this problem by dressing them in super-hero costumes. A ploy which backfired spectacularly when passers-by commented “wow, Robin’s really outta shape”. Even with enhanced body sculpture they still succeeded in looking like local council employees compiling traffic statistics. Google, much as I hate to give them free advertising, has a “similar pictures” option among its search menu. Here are some “similar pictures” of The Shins.
I suspect however, with the greatest of respect, that the hard working folk who wear dayglo tabbards for a living don’t tend to imagine the end of a relationship in phrases like “a trail of white blood betrays the reckless route your craft is running”.
I’ve tried in previous blog entries to explain my views on good songwriting. That, unlike poetry, lyrics need to grab you by the lapels in order to hold your attention for four minutes. This is where “the Past and Pending” hits paydirt. From the moment James Mercer croons “As someone sets light to the first fire of autumn, we settle down to cut ourselves apart” you’re hooked. You know this is something you need to hear about. That it might be a story you’ve heard countless times before and even been through yourself, but that this time you’re going to hear it in a new way. In a seductive way. In a way that makes you want to hold misery around you like a comfort blanket. And bask. A bit like being bitten by a vampire. Sorry, is that just me?
Shins songs get you like that. Phrases that leap out of the underachieving murk and slap you about the face a bit. Even so, an entire album can sometimes try your patience. A little too polite. A little too fey and wistful. My brother (and I hope he’ll forgive me for sharing this) was once in a band that Melody Maker dismissed as “indie plankton”. That, during the moments when they’re treading water, is The Shins. Until we get to 2012’s “Port Of Morrow”.
We all love trailblazing debut albums. There’s much fun to be had arguing the case for a number of difficult second albums. Contrary as I try to be, I have a great fondness for the overlooked fourth album. Bands who find fashion has pointed her fickle finger elsewhere, critics turning away to stare at the younger model who’s just entered the room, waiting till the twilight of their career before releasing a masterwork, sticking two fingers up and shouting “thank you Stevenage, goodnight”. I’m thinking Pulp’s “We Love Life”, “The Sin Of Pride” by The Undertones and swamp noir nihilists Gallon Drunk’s “In The Long Still Night”. The last named bucking the trend by continuing to bid adieu to new towns to this day.
After ending their contract with Sub Pop, the band announced they would be releasing future albums on their own label. Uh oh. Years passed. Line-ups changed. And then suddenly there it was. Sharp and spiky where the previous three had been all soft focus. Lurching from side to side like a Wellington bomber with a drunk at the controls trying to land on one engine. And then just as suddenly, gone. Nothing. Like a rock’n’roll Brigadoon, appearing for a moment just to show us what guitar pop could be like. In an ideal world.
The website promises a gig in September. But frustratingly fails to mention which year this might take place. The venue is to be an equally vague, Dorset. In the United Kingdom. Don’t be surprised if there turns out to be a Dorset on the arabian peninsular.
I hope they’ve not given up. We need bands like The Shins. People who are prepared to strum away the years, not caring if there’s money or acclaim in it. Just for the joy of hearing E A D over and over.
Maybe they’ll surprise us again. If not, thank you Andorra. Goodnight!