With License To Drive, we take a look at an album that is celebrating its Sweet 16th Birthday and is finally able to take the car for a drive all on their own.
Today we look at The Shins’ debut album, “Oh, Inverted World”. From the outset for the Shins, this is a career defining album. And in reality, a genre defining album. The indie landscape of the 2000’s was quickly changing from heavy rock, to a more thoughtful and heartfelt sound, with honest singers and songwriters, and smart and slick- yet simplified production styles. The Shins fell into this category, and actually helped to give it shape and form.
“Oh, Inverted World” is a perfect little album, with a running time of 33 minutes. From its start with “Caring is Creepy”, the listener peers into a diorama of conflicted human emotions. And each song after is an equally palatable, bite size vignette. Gentle but struggled lyrics from the high and wavering voice of James Mercer, paired with equally gentle but engrossing music from the rest of the band. Sweet melodies floating above Beach Boys-esque drumming and strumming with nods to the first British invasion as well.
James Mercer, a man of the world already, was 31 years old when this album was released in the Summer of 2001. His previous project, Flake Music, was simply leading him to this. The Shins were a natural evolution of his art and voice. “Oh, Inverted World” is arguably their best due to its earnest and pure qualities. But you could also argue that it was simply the first in a string of critically acclaimed records that The Shins put out, with each one adding a layer to the onion. And you should “Know Your Onion”.
At the time, “Oh, Inverted World” was a critical success, and a minor commercial success, but The Shins truly struck gold with the Zach Braff film “Garden State.” The inclusion of songs “New Slang” and “Caring is Creepy” in the movie and the accompanying soundtrack, helped propel sales of this first record, and their next, “Chutes Too Narrow”, when “Garden State” was released in 2004. In conclusion, a often overlooked debut, “Oh, Inverted World” should be in your music library if it’s not already. A poignant and brief time capsule of the birth of one indie rock’s best and brightest bands.
Check out these videos from songs on the album, particularly the one for “New Slang,” directed by Lance Bangs. It captures the hypnotic song perfectly.