10 Best Shins Songs Of All Time

The Shins Songs

Photo: Mike Mantin from Bristol, UK, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Our compilation of the top 10 songs by The Shins highlights how a seemingly secondary venture can blossom into a major musical force. Originating in 1996 as a side project by James Mercer, a member of the 1990s band Flake Music, The Shins quickly carved out their own niche within the music world. Their debut albums, Oh, Inverted World and Chutes Too Narrow, garnered widespread critical acclaim and significantly expanded their indie rock audience.

The Shins’ trajectory took a remarkable turn with the inclusion of their song “New Slang” in the film Garden State, marking a pivotal moment in their career. This exposure propelled them to greater heights, setting the stage for their third album, which not only retained their signature jangly and melodious sound but also achieved substantial commercial success, soaring to the number two spot on the Billboard 200. Their 2007 release, Wincing the Night Away, further solidified their reputation in the music industry, earning a Grammy nomination and acclaim for its exquisite composition and standout tracks, showcasing the band’s evolution from a side project to a seminal indie rock outfit.

# 10 – Turn On Me

Leading our selection of the top 10 songs by The Shins is “Turn On Me” from their acclaimed 2007 album Wincing the Night Away. James Mercer, the band’s frontman, has shared that this track delves into a rift with a past member of Flake Music, his earlier band. The lyrics poignantly capture the aftermath of their disagreements, showcasing a mix of bitterness and maturity in dealing with the fallout. Despite the underlying tension, Mercer suggests through the song that forgiveness is the most constructive approach in such situations, emphasizing the importance of moving beyond past conflicts without allowing them to leave a lasting impact.

#9 – Australia

Well, this one is fine. The band reminds me of Devo in the video with their bright orange outfits. Once again, “Australia,” from The Shins’ album Wincing the Night Away, showcases James Mercer’s exceptional songwriting prowess. Despite its title, the song doesn’t reference Australia directly. Instead, it stands out for its intricate composition and engaging melody. Notably, “Australia” was chosen as part of the soundtrack for the Xbox 360 game Project Gotham Racing 4, broadening its audience. Critics and fans alike praised the song, particularly noting a newfound depth and assertiveness in Mercer’s vocal delivery, marking a significant evolution in his artistic expression.

# 8 – Saint Simon

“Saint Simon,” a standout track from The Shins’ 2003 album Chutes Too Narrow, showcases the exceptional songwriting prowess of James Mercer and is a key contributor to the album’s success. The band’s performance of this song highlights not only Mercer’s skillful composition but also the cohesive and dynamic execution by the entire group. Mercer shines as the quintessential frontman, with his uplifting vocals leading the charge. Complemented by the harmonious backing vocals, his lead adds a layer of richness and depth, creating a distinctive sound that epitomizes the essence of The Shins’ original lineup. This song remains a testament to the band’s golden era, encapsulating the spirit of those times through its melodic intricacies and lyrical depth.

# 7 – Caring is Creepy

The song “Caring is Creepy,” which opens The Shins’ debut album Oh, Inverted World, introduces the band’s signature style both musically and lyrically. Its inclusion in the 2004 film Garden State played a pivotal role in propelling The Shins to wider acclaim, an impressive feat for a track from a debut album. Despite its misleading title, “Caring is Creepy” explores themes of disillusionment and the jarring realization of life’s complexities, rather than focusing on conventional themes of love and care. This exploration of existential themes, paired with the song’s captivating title, seamlessly complements the album’s overarching aesthetic and thematic concerns, marking a strong entry into the music scene for The Shins.

# 6  – Pink Bullets

“Pink Bullets” by The Shins stands out not only as a poignant breakup song but also as a testament to the band’s musical prowess. The harmonious blend of frontman James Mercer’s vocal delivery and Dave Hernandez’s guitar work creates a rich sonic tapestry. The interplay between gentle acoustic strumming and the ambient electric guitar lines significantly contributes to the song’s emotive atmosphere, enhancing the overall allure of the ballad. It’s tracks like “Pink Bullets” that played a key role in the acclaim and success of their 2003 album, Chutes Too Narrow.

# 5 – Sleeping Lessons

Embracing a unique approach can often be a defining moment in a music career, a concept The Shins exemplified with the release of “Sleeping Lessons.” This track, featured on their 2007 album Wincing the Night Away, diverges from the band’s typically emotional resonance, venturing into more philosophical territories. The song delves into existential themes, with James Mercer advocating for the empowerment of individual free will and the liberation from rigid structures. While the message is profound, it resonated deeply with The Shins’ extensive fan base, suggesting that many were ready to embrace and apply the song’s existential philosophies to their own lives, showcasing the band’s ability to connect on both emotional and intellectual levels.

#4 – Phantom Limb

“Phantom Limb,” the lead single from The Shins’ third album, stands out for its narrative depth and thematic boldness. James Mercer, the band’s frontman, crafted the song around a fictional tale of a young lesbian couple navigating the challenges and prejudices of high school life in a small town. The storyline offers a poignant exploration of their struggles, set against a backdrop of societal intolerance. Notably, the song’s title, “Phantom Limb,” doesn’t appear in the lyrics; instead, it serves as a powerful metaphor for a sense of loss or disconnection, adding a layer of complexity to the song’s interpretation and further enriching its emotional impact.

# 3 – The Riffle’s Spiral

James Mercer, the band’s primary songwriter, delves into the theme of war’s futility through this song. The lyrics poignantly highlight the disregard for human life, overshadowed by the narrow interests imposed by political, corporate, and religious leadership. Despite significant changes in the band’s lineup, leaving Mercer as the sole original member, “The Rifle’s Spiral” introduces a renewed energy and intensity to The Shins’ sound, showcasing Mercer’s continued evolution as a songwriter and the band’s ability to adapt and thrive amidst transitions.

#2 – Simple Song

“Simple Song,” a standout track from The Shins’ album Port of Morrow, reflects on the band’s musical odyssey since their inception in the mid-90s. James Mercer, the creative force behind The Shins, penned the song amidst the production of their earlier album, Wincing the Night Away, but chose to hold its release until 2012. Mercer acknowledges that the song subtly addresses the departure of band members Crandall and Sandoval. However, at its core, “Simple Song” delves deeper, exploring Mercer’s roots in Albuquerque, a small town that significantly shaped his artistic perspective and the band’s evolution. This personal touch adds a layer of authenticity and introspection to the song, making it a poignant homage to beginnings and transitions.

#1 – New Slang

“New Slang” stands as a seminal piece in The Shins’ discography, marking a defining moment not only for their debut album Oh, Inverted World but also for their entire music career. Crafted from the threads of James Mercer’s reflections on his hometown and the tumultuous period of his late 20s, the song is imbued with a sense of confusion and disconnection from his earlier life. “New Slang” resonates as a profoundly impactful track for the band, characterized by its gentle mid-tempo folk melody and Mercer’s haunting falsetto. The song’s profound influence and success were further cemented when it was prominently featured in the 2004 film Garden State, introducing The Shins to a broader audience and solidifying “New Slang” as a pivotal track in the landscape of indie music.

Top 10 Shins Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2024

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