moments before the wind.

February 7, 2007

you had to know that i was fond of you

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, indie, music, reviews, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 11:12 am

On the Shin’s new album, despite the insane amount of information out there already, because it’s just that good:

I’m not going to review the album. It’s a fantastic album. I am a die hard Shins fan, have been for years, and though the mass publicity triggers a kind of reverse-indie reaction, I am very happy for their success – they are one of the few bands that truly, truly deserve it.

There’s one line, one phrase, on Wincing the Night Away, that I’d like to address here. This one phrase wholly encapsulates everything I have ever loved about this band. It is a distillation of practically all of the things I’ve been praising them for over the last four years. It is a hallmark line of perverse delight and genuine baffle, leaving the optimists among us unsettled but happy, and even the most cynical are bobbing their heads in agreement or just plain rhythmical satisfaction.

Track 7 (of COURSE!): “Turn On Me.” Beginning of verse two, here we go:

And so affections fade away, and do adults just learn to play the most ridiculous repulsive games?

For people who don’t know the music, I can imagine this is hard to really understand, so let me make it a little easier. I’ll break up the line based on the beats of the song so that you can see how just a minor rearrangement affects the meaning:

And so affections fade away
and do adults just learn to
play the most ridiculous
repulsive games?

Now I still don’t know if this is going to come across the way I’d like it to, but I’ll try.

In the first version, you read it and think, “Okay, here are the Shins doing their hand-wave-kiss-off schtick, just like in that song they had in that movie – what’s the big deal?” Or maybe you’re thinking, “hmm…repulsive…that’s not a word I hear in songs very often…interesting.” Or maybe, “Ah, the Shins, so child-like, always the real world crashing down around them.”

But once you get to the second version, it changes a bit: “Hmm, the rhythm of the rhyming words – away, play, games – is quite interesting when read out loud, much like one might sing them.” (Yes, go ahead, try it.) Or you could be still stuck on the word: “Now, repulsive is much more prominent, the meaning is much stronger, unavoidable really.”

And let’s add a little bit of music theory to the mix. Really, just the most basic small bit. Don’t be scared. The first three lines are all in one chord – the  root chord of the song (the I chord), which is our “happy place” as listeners. FYI – ringing, major keys keep us happy. The fourth line is where the chord changes to the V (five) chord. This chord is also major but as it is the V, it has the effect of creating maximum tension, musically. When listeners hear a V chord, the entire history of Western classical and pop music snaps to attention in our little neurons. We have all been brainwashed to crave resolution, we want the I, we need the I, and we will feel unsettled and waiting until we get it.

So, what’s the word that brings us into this tense, anxiety-ridden state? That’s right, repulsive! With a simple but heavy bassline emphasizing the pul in repulsive, it’s a truly remarkable feeling. I should add too that sive and games get a good deal of emphasis also, and in the continuing shaky environment of that V chord, the entire phrase resonates far into the rest of your day.

And this, my friends, is why I love the Shins. It is fairly common for talented (or lucky) songwriters to play the lyrical narrative against the musical narrative, often with varying results (happy words, sad music; happy music, sad words; etc…). This particular example is a weird run-on sentence, wordy, a real mouthful, and somehow the band carries it off without a hitch – even more, it feels smooth and makes a real point that a lesser ensemble could easily gloss over. The narrative nuance in the Shins music continually amaze me, I literally am often just thinking, “How do they do that?!”

and besides, the John updike reference? that’s pretty good.



  1. Nice example of what raises them above the rest. And do you think that main riff in “Turn on Me” was originally played on a lute, as in Vivaldi’s??

    Comment by Tom — February 23, 2007 @ 12:18 am

  2. This is really great, I find you both insightful and interesting. This was a pleasure to read and I know you’re even more awesome for liking the Shins too.

    Comment by Dr Evan Yewsoebeey Jr PhD — August 14, 2008 @ 11:31 am

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