Study Guide

New Slang

New Slang Introduction

In a Nutshell

With a simple tambourine tap, a fade-in of steady acoustic strum, and ethereal ooh's wrapped in a warm blanket of reverb, "New Slang" begins, and it's easy to see why this song helped make the Shins an international success. From the first instant, it's both lovely and nostalgic.

The song is much more, though, than just another pretty tune about wanting things back that have long since passed you by. Shins' songwriter James Mercer is really expressing his wish to find a life worth leading, and he uses vivid images to do so. When the song was released, this search for meaning resonated with a lot of Gen-Xers who were aimlessly approaching 30 near the turn of the millennium. 

Of course, it still strikes chords today. Whether you're in a hometown you can't stand, have a relationship in your past that you wish had ended better (or not ended at all), or have strange thoughts about the buns from your local bakery, "New Slang" is a song worth knowing more about.

About the Song

ArtistShins, The
Year2001
LabelSub Pop
Writer(s)James Mercer
Producer(s)James Mercer, the Shins
Musician(s)James Mercer (guitar, vocals), David Hernandez (bass)
Learn to play
AlbumOh, Inverted World

Music Video

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Influences on Shins, The

My Bloody Valentine
Pixies
Echo and the Bunnymen
The Apples in Stereo
The Beta Band
The Jesus & Mary Chain

Influenced by Shins, The

The Shins were part of the underground music explosion in the early 2000s. Their first album came out in the same time period as the White Stripes' breakthrough album White Blood Cells, the Strokes' debut Is This It, and the New Pornographers' first album Mass Romantic

The influence of this shift in music culture toward a large audience valuing home-recorded or lo-fi albums from small-label bands (The Strokes were on RCA, a giant label, but their record sounds like vintage garage rock) led to later breakthroughs for artists like Bon Iver. The catchy guitar pop with heady lyrics that the Shins made into their hallmark can be heard in newer bands like the Morning Benders.

The special relationship between the Shins and Modest Mouse bears mentioning here, too. The two bands are both products of the American West; they toured together on the Shins' first extensive set of live shows; and the lead songwriters of the bands, James Mercer and Isaac Brock, are friends. The Modest Mouse's drummer even joined the Shins in 2009. Over time, Modest Mouse's originally more rocking sound and experimental bent has given way to more pop-like tunes, while the Shins' initial pop sound has gotten more and more experimental.

New Slang Resources

Albums

Oh, Inverted World (2001)
The Shins debut is full of catchy tunes with interesting lyrics. It earned them a dedicated fan base and critical praise.

Chutes Too Narrow (2003)
This album is on NME's list of best 100 albums of the last decade; some consider Chutes Too Narrow to be stronger than the Shins' first album.

Wincing the Night Away (2007)
This effort by the Shins sees them stretching out into new territories of texture and sound. Also, chart-wise, it's the band's most successful album: it debuted at the #2 Billboard spot.

Images

The Shins in Space!
The band rides playground rocking creatures in the faraway regions of the universe.

Movies & TV

Garden State (2004)
This is the movie with Scrubs actor Zach Braff and now-Oscar winner Natalie Portman that helped make the Shins a pretty big deal.

In Good Company (2004)
It didn't make as big of a cultural splash as Garden State, despite having a similar pairing of young-TV-actor-turning-to-film and up-and-coming-actress (Topher Grace—Eric from That 70's Show—and Scarlett Johansson), but it features just as many Shins songs, which makes it plenty worth checking out.

Gilmore Girls, Season 4, Episode 17 (2004)
The show full of rapid-fire quips and ever-changing romances had the Shins on to perform their song "Know Your Onion" in a club that main character, Rory, goes to. Read about the episode to see how some of the Shins sound might match the feel of this TV drama.

Websites

The Shins Official Site
For information on where to see the band live, to learn more of their backstory, or get an official Shins seahorse scarf, check out their site.

Matt LeMay, "Interview with James Mercer on the Recording Process," Pitchfork (2007)
In an interview with Matt LeMay of Pitchfork from January 2nd, 2007, James Mercer talks about the evolution of his recording process from Oh, Inverted World to Wincing the Night Away.

Robert Levine, "The Shins' Big Adventure" Spin (2007)
This article captures the band on the cusp of releasing Wincing the Night Away. The article gives a lot of interesting backstory and portrays the Shins as a band that is still pretty humble even at the peak of their success.

Video & Audio

"New Slang" (Live)
See the Shins perform the song live on Letterman.

NPR Examines the Shins
This is a radio story that took a good look at the Shins before they embarked on a tour in 2005, just after the breakthrough success that came with Chutes Too Narrow and the exposure from Garden State.

Broken Bells' Live Performance
If you like the Shins, you'll probably like Broken Bells, because James Mercer started this new band as a "side project"—rest assured, they're pretty successful in their own right.