Updated: Sep 21
The Top 15 songs by The Shins along with a couple honorable mentions. Spotify playlist of the list included at the bottom.
15 - Name For You (Heartworms)
The opener to the Shins 5th album, Name For You is a catchy song, with a catchy chorus. Although this album is almost unanimously their least liked album, you have to respect the drive to think outside the box, as that is what produced their last two albums. They got it right with this song though, a nice driving drum groove, and a lot of interesting harmonies. Some more guitar in the later fuller section may have made the song a bit more exciting, but nevertheless, 16 years after Oh Inverted World, they still got it.
14 - Girl Sailor (Wincing the Night Away)
This may be the most underrated song on this album. An upbeat song with sounds of the 60's from the simple hook which starts the song, to the soft distortion free guitar work which makes up a nice solo. Some pretty lyrics, an interesting drum groove, and bit of a buildup to the outro, this song gets better with every listen. Not much of a staple at their live performances, but in the few live recordings that are out there, this is a mesmerizing song to see unfold. When asked about this song, Mercer explains it was loosely based on a girl with some fiction thrown in as well. A nice nod to the simple but groovy hooks coming from England in the 60's
13 - A Comet Appears (Wincing the Night Away)
If this is a song you have not heard, I would suggest following along with the lyrics for the first time through. A Comet Appears is a track with a nostalgic but also dark aura about it. With Mercer's most poetic lyrics, this song was a perfect closer to the album. "With Burnt Sage and a forest of bygones, I click my heels, get the devils in line," I'm not quite sure exactly what that means, but regardless they are the perfect lyrics. When asked about this song, Mercer described it as a very emotional song about how we deal with all of our emotions and face our thoughts. Some very gentle guitar work, and a nice keyboard solo, this is another song well worth the listen.
12 - They'll Soon Discover (The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie Soundtrack)
Yes, this song was from the SpongeBob Movie, and yes it deserves a spot on this list. A goofy, and charming song released sometime between Chutes Too Narrow and Wincing the Night Away, this song is still a great indie-pop song. Mercer puts together some nice lyrics about everyone's favorite sea sponge and the adventure Mr. SquarePants embarks out on. This song still has some very elegant guitar work, and a memorable keyboard melody which comes back again and again. If you have not heard this song, it is well worth the listen, and an add to your indie playlists.
11 - Kissing the Lipless (Chutes to Narrow)
A very musically important song by The Shins. The opener of their second album, and from the very beginning of the song, you can hear a noticeable higher quality production along with a louder volume at which the album was mastered at. This may have been the first step of the Shins really coming out of their shell. One of the songs, that made this album as good as it was and a great opener.
10 - Sea Legs (Wincing the Night Away)
I bought myself a higher end sound system a couple of years back and this was one of the first albums I threw on with this being the song that made my jaw drop. With the mystic and nautical sound which is the first half of the song reminding me of The Mollusk by Ween, the second half of the song following the breakdown must be listened to on higher end speakers or a nice set of headphones. There is so much going from the keyboard loops to the simple percussive guitar line, and to the bass bouncing around in the background. When you are actually able to hear all that is going on, especially after the breakdown, you can truly appreciate the talent of this band, and the fine production by James Mercer and Joe Chiccarelli.
9 - 40 Mark Strasse (Port of Morrow)
Starting with whistling, and Mercer's nostalgic writing of his childhood on an Air Force base in Germany, The Shins crank it way up for the Chorus in a manner similar to that of the Pixies. The Shins do a great job with the soft to loud dynamic in this album as a whole, really allowing them to perfect this new sound they can have. A full-bodied chorus, following somber, storytelling writing shows exactly what the Shins have evolved into since their debut. Although this song did not quite live on with as much popularity as some of their others, 40 Mark Strasse is another one to add to your alternative rock playlists.
8 - Girl on the Wing (Oh Inverted World)
The most musically interesting song on their debut album. There's a lot going on in this song, from the drums to the dissonant guitar work, to the vocal harmonies, and of course the looping keyboard. Girl on the Wing may be one of their most underrated songs, but is a great song nevertheless. Mercer really got some very interesting sounds on this track reminiscent of some of the more experimental records of 90's groups such as Ween and Wilco, but with the wide-welcoming arms of 2000's Indie.
7 - Australia (Wincing the Night Away)
TIME TO PUT THE EAR COVERS ON, NO! Or at least that's what I think they say in the German gibberish that starts this song. Australia sounds to be more like the 11th track on Chutes Too Narrow, with its light and bouncing guitar and vocals rather than the follow-up to the new age/experimental Sleeping Lessons. This song has a distinctive sound different than that of the other songs on the album, but regardless, it will make you dance. Just a hands down, feel good song all around. It is to no shock that this song is one of their most streamed, and covered songs. Although not as instrumently interesting or exciting as some of the other songs on Wincing the Night Away, this song holds the Shins close to their roots which was an important thing to do on this album.
6 - Saint Simon (Chutes Too Narrow)
A Grammy nominated song for the violin work, Saint Simon is a very interesting, and well written song filled with the 60's pop elements found in much of this album. The light and flowing vocals along with their harmonies echo the sounds of the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas. To hear Mercer singing alongside strings, in a soft and weary voice is a real treat for listeners showing the level of experimentation and grace that made this album so memorable. Add a little bit of pitched percussion, some strings and a clean guitar line, and you have one of the most (if not the most) musically interesting songs The Shins had released at that point.
5 - Gone For Good (Chutes Too Narrow)
This albums New Slang. Gone for Good is some of the finest songwriting ever released by the Shins. The pedal-steel guitar giving it the folk/country sound was a great touch contributing to the bouncy pace of this song, and the album as a whole. This track is filled with melancholy lyrics that can resonate with anyone at all stages of their lives. A confident yet very pretty song, on an album that many listeners will consider their best.
4 - Turn on Me (Wincing the Night Away)
In the middle of Wincing the Night Away, the entire band had two chances to really show you what they could do, Sea Legs was the first, and two tracks later they clap back with this. Turn on Me, is a hands-down great rock song with a powerful, but groovy guitar solo and memorable chorus showing off Mercer's talent as a vocalist. The guitar work in the album is very good, as is the band as a whole behind Mercer. These guys just sound about as tight as can be on this track. Turn on Me will always live on as the time they showed they can really rock out, just as well as they could create soft beautiful melodies.
3 - Simple Song (Port of Morrow)
Once again, The Shins show they really can rock out. With that Pixies, quiet to loud effect in the bridge, and rock driven chorus, Simple Song remains one of their most well know songs. Although, it's commercial savviness and hard rock elements may make some originalists cringe, this is some of Mercer's most graceful and poetic lyrical writing ever released. Being as early on the album as it is, Simple Song shows The Shins still have a lot say, after a string of very good albums. Some of their finest work, and yet another song which can really tug on your heartstrings.
2 - New Slang (Oh Inverted World)
This is probably the song that got many listeners into The Shins, as this is by far their most streamed and arguably well-known song. Filled with soft lyrics describing scenes of loneliness and confusion, this song has lived on as a staple for Triple A radio, and indie playlists alike. Halfway through the masterful five song suite that is the middle of this album, The Shins show off a soft but up-tempo drumbeat, a melodic guitar solo and a hook that people haven't stopped humming for 20 years. A song that truly can capture a moment in a persons life.
1 - Phantom Limb (Wincing the Night Away)
Track number four, on Wincing the Night Away, Phantom Limb exemplifies the more full-bodied, and rockin' direction Mercer is taking the band from the original lo-fi, and folk-pop beginnings which made up the first two albums. Following an epic build up in Pam Berry (track three on the album) Mercer's poetic genius shines through with beautiful and nostalgic lyrics leading into the tower of sound that is the outro. A Phil Spector like wall of sound, pounding drums and ripping guitar takes you right into the static that starts Sea Legs. This is the finest song, the Shins have ever released, and marks a notable transition in their discography.
From the initial Indie lo-fi and folk/pop sound to the louder more polished albums which were released later, The Shins had a long string of very good songs over the span of about 17 years. Although their 2017 album Heartworms only made one appearance on this list, just as the other four, it is still worth the listen. With all of the lineup changes The Shins had over the years, Mercer remained the only consistent member and the primary piece in the sound that they have developed. With an assortment of talented musicians over the span of five albums, they have been able to make each album sound unique and shine it's own way. Truly one of the most important bands in the large and expanding indie realm. In no particular order, a few honorable mentions are; So Says I, Caring is Creepy, Fall of 82 and Mildenhall.