The Shins and I

I first came across The Shins in the summer of 2007, through no choice of my own. Now they are one of my favourite groups. What happened in the intervening years? I became an arts student at University. Allow me to connect the dots.


Casting my mind’s eye back I see myself as a somewhat gangly, uncouth thirteen year old standing in my friend’s house, brandishing the £10 iTunes voucher I had just received from him for my birthday. Naturally, I was eager to spend it at once on ‘kl tunez’, but as I have already pointed out, I was hardly the coolest tween in the suburbs, and I didn’t have much idea of what to spend the money on.

So, I put my faith in the NME- reading, skateboard-riding elder brother of that friend, who proceeded to download the 12 or so songs that he believed would serve as the cornerstone of my education, my rite of passage into the world of ‘decent music’. One of these songs happened to be ‘New Slang’ by The Shins, the first song that I ever heard by the band, and a song that Natalie Portman’s character ‘Sam’ in ‘Garden State’ says will ‘change your life’.

I have to admit that at first this claim did not hold water for me. ‘Why did you download this?’ I railed in anger. ‘There’s not even a synth in it. I can’t even pretend to break-dance to it. I could have downloaded the Crazy Frog summer 2k7 remix with that 79p you baboon (my insult of choice at the time, don’t ask)!’ He did not respond immediately, but merely looked at me with knowing eyes. ‘Give it time’, he said, before exiting the room, leaving me clutching my blaring laptop and hoping for catharsis to such a confusing demand.

Surely enough, with time, the group grew on me to the point that now I would consider them one of my favourite bands. So what happened in these intervening years? How did my friend’s skateboarding elder brother know so astutely that the inherent value of their music would be realised after a length of time? Such questions kept me up until the small hours of the morning wondering if I had met some sort of musically prophetic demi-god.

It was, strangely enough, upon watching ‘Pineapple Express’ that it all became clear, my Eureka moment. Seth Rogen’s character ‘Dale’ hit the nail on the head:

“You’re gonna go off to college soon… and you’re gonna start listening to bands like Godspeed, You Black Emperor! and The Shins… and then you’ll dye your hair black and become a lesbian… and then you’ll dump me… so go ahead and have fun!”

This quote gripped me because, well, it might just have been the answer I was searching for: the link between Student-dom and The Shins. I am a Student, the elder brother that forced their music upon me was a Student, and the music that The Shins produce caters precisely to this audience. Listen to their lyrics; admire the verbose use of vocabulary and breadth of allusion. They are pretty much the pinnacle of what I would describe as ‘self-indulgent clever-person indie-rock’.  And as such they are perfect for those who seek a ‘deeper meaning’ in music (likely to be Students/ music snobs- how many times have you heard people at University snub the top 40 as corporate, meaningless bullsh*t?).

This is not to overstretch the accuracy of the link that Rogen has created, by no means are The Shins the Pink Floyd of our generation. However, it did make me realise that were I to choose a ‘song’ for my First Year at University, it would be ‘Saint Simon’. I can’t hear that song now without vivid flashbacks of throwing open the curtains of my dingy halls room after a night on the jung-bombs, and feeling that maybe, everything is going to be okay. And then finding the kebab lying in the bathtub.

Will I still listen to The Shins when I have passed on through the hallowed halls of further education? Maybe. Maybe not. But for now, I bask in the symbiotic relationship their music shares with the populace of Student-dom. So here’s to you Shins, you Student-friendly band you.

If you fancy a listen, check out my five favourite songs of The Shins:

  1. Saint Simon

  2. Australia

  3. Phantom Limb

  4. New Slang

  5. Caring is Creepy