The Shins: "Wincing the Night Away
Producers: James Mercer, Joe Chiccarelli
Sup Pop
Release Date: Jan. 23

The Shins' third album probably won't change your life, despite what Natalie Portman insists. But "Wincing the Night Away" might actually be their best yet, a quietly ambitious effort that nudges the Shins' trademark indie pop into unexpected new directions. There's a drum machine beat, loping bass groove, strings and even flute on "Red Rabbits," ghostly reverb and noises on "Black Wave," and "Spilt Needles" drops the jangle in favor of a dark melody and surreal lyrics. Even more interesting is opener "Sleeping Lessons," which starts drumless and bubbly before flowering into a smile-inducing, major-key jam. Sweet, peppy tracks like the girl group-shaded "Turn on Me," "Phantom Limb" and "Australia" (with banjo) will give the devotees what they want and prove the Shins have few peers with those kind of things. A night well spent. --Jonathan Cohen