The clever video for "New Slang"--the first single off the Shins' full-length debut, Oh, Inverted World--has the band's four members posing in careful re-creations of various classic indie album covers: the Replacements' Let It Be, Cat Power's Moon Pix, Slint's Spiderland and Hüsker Dü's New Day Rising and Zen Arcade among them. It's a neat trick, and it works in context, staying more fun than pretentious, never becoming an exercise in referential one-upmanship. The images fit the song--and each other--so well that the covers might as well have been cited by pure accident. Oh, yeah, it helps that "New Slang" is one of the most irresistible songs to come around in the last year, a pseudo-psychedelic rush of bouncy, reflective lo-fi goodness.
The rest of World follows suit, as front man James Mercer (no relation) steers through a strange landscape where folk and new-wave elements fuse with the neo-psychedelia thrust of, say, Beulah or the Starlight Mints. Mercer riffles through his own arcane lyrics, especially obtuse on "Your Algebra," which, set to an alien zombie whistle and cello drone, begins: "You may notice certain things before you die/Mail them to me should they cause/Your algebra to fail." The Shins' off-kilter lyrical sensibilities spill over into their song titles as well: "Caring is Creepy," "Know Your Onion!" and "The Celibate Life" are nearly Robert Pollard-worthy in their offhandedness.
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Though they hail from Albuquerque, the Shins sound like they could be from anywhere--or from any time for that matter. It all sort of feels like a carefree group of kids roaming around on an overcast summer afternoon doing timeless things like swimming in the waterhole (Spiderland) or sitting on the roof together (Let It Be), watching the unpredictable hues of the fiery, cloud-addled sunrise (New Day Rising). No wonder the video worked so well.