With so-called indie-rock bands like Modest Mouse topping the Billboard 200 chart with major-label albums, the term “indie” has become about as meaningless as “alternative” was back in the post-Nevermind ’90s. But we’re not going to complain when rock bands — the earnest kind that can actually write songs and aren’t called Nickelback or Linkin Park — are moving serious units and getting played on commercial radio. New albums from the Shins and their closest competition for Best Indie Act, the Arcade Fire — Wincing the Night Away and Neon Bible, both of which came out on actual independent labels (Sub Pop and Merge, respectively) — debuted at number two earlier this year. Another sign of the ongoing collapse of the major-label record industry? Perhaps. Or maybe, as Shins frontman James Mercer put it in an interview with Rolling Stone, it’s just that mainstream audiences are once again “craving authenticity.” Whatever the case, though Wincing isn’t the band’s best album (that would be their 2001 debut, Oh, Inverted World), it’s a characteristically smart, affecting, resonant collection of songs. And we’ll take that over the modern-rock pap of bands like Hinder any day.
— Will Spitz
by MATT ASHARE