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Shriek of the Week: The Shins, “Phantom Limb”

April 3, 2014

Shins_Wincing (1)Certain songs belong to an era. They cannot exist without evoking the feeling of the particular time that they are from. This week I found myself spinning the third album from indie-pop The Shins, Wincing the Night Away, and coming to the conclusion that no song feels more like 2007 than the fourth song on side A, the poppy “Phantom Limb“. If I were to make an old-fashioned mix tape of the songs of the aughts, Phantom Limb would have to be included.

Overall, Wincing is a good-but-not-great effort from The Shins. Side B in particular tends to put me to sleep. But the two singles on Side A – “Australia” and Phantom Limb – are both very good, with the latter possibly my favorite Shins song (and hence my Shriek of the Week). Phantom Limb is upbeat, catchy, sunny – the kind of song you want to take you into spring, as we enter April and it finally warms up a bit here in New York City. I never quite knew any of the lyrics to the song – they’re completely unintelligible to me – but that never mattered. I just liked the way James Mercer’s singing soothed me, along with the humming towards the end of the song. In Pitchfork‘s review of the album they say, ” Single “Phantom Limb” is pure, lush pop, boasting a chorus that plays like the aural equivalent of that optical illusion where a staircase appears to ascend indefinitely.” I have no idea what that means, though I suppose it describes the song well in that it sounds nice and is unintelligible to me.

Sleeve insert

Sleeve insert

If I had to guess what the song was about I’d feel pretty confident saying that it had something to do with the physiological condition known as phantom limb – the sensation that an amputated or missing limb is still attached to the body and is moving appropriately with other body parts. Oliver Sacks discusses this condition in at least two of his books, Musicophilia and Hallucinations, which I read and reviewed here and here. It would feel good to be one of the few who knew what Mercer was singing about. Of course, I’d have been completely wrong. In talking to Billboard, Mercer said that “The song is a hypothetical, fictional account of a young, lesbian couple in high school dealing with the sh*tty small town they live in.” Well OK then.

Whatever it’s about, Phantom Limb is a throwback – albeit to less than a decade ago – and a sign that spring is coming. Watch the video below or stream the audio here and say hello to spring.

(Side note about the artwork: again, I have no idea what it is meant to represent. But I find it very reminiscent of the fantastic work that Marisa Paternoster does for her band, Screaming Females.)

Lyrics (from insert) presented in a most unusual way

Lyrics (from insert) presented in a most unusual way


The Shins – Phantom Limb – Official Video

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