Jul 11

The Shins: “New Slang”


An array of Charlie Brown Christmas trees in silhouette?

There’s a scene in the movie Garden State where Natalie Portman says to Zach Braff something along the lines of, “you’ve got to listen to this song, it’ll change your life.” She puts the headphones on his head and “New Slang,” by The Shins, plays. Problem is, I ended up not liking that movie as much as some people apparently did, and it nearly ruined this song for me. Why? For two reasons: 1) I’ve been finding Natalie Portman more and more annoying in her movies as time goes on; and 2) if you want someone to like a song, the last thing you should say to them is, “This song will change your life.” Because after that, I can almost assure you it won’t. You set the bar that high, and you can forget about it…their expectations at that point could never be met, and even if they might have liked it under other circumstances, they may actually dislike it as a result. If a certain song, artist, or album is really going to do anything like changing your life, it’s got to do it on its own time, at its and your own speed — it’s a very personal thing. I promise that you will never read anywhere on this blog me saying that the song I’m writing about will change your life. Oh sure, I may say it’s “great,” and I usually do, but that’s as far as I’ll go. I leave it up to you to figure out on your own whether it does anything even close to altering your life.

Thankfully, I was already a big fan of The Shins and this song when the movie came out, so the whole thing wasn’t enough to really kill my interest in it. “New Slang,” from The Shins’ 2001 debut album, Oh, Inverted World, is such a good song that it was able to ride out that kind of remark. It fades in quietly with a great chord progression and the kind of guitar strumming that always gets me. It gradually builds to the “…and if you turn/to me like/a gull takes to the wind…” beginning of the chorus. It’s a beautiful vocal turn that the rest of the song revolves around, the hook that takes the entire song to a higher level. The tasteful, reverb-y guitar solo after the second chorus is perfect for the song as well, the kind of simple yet just-right solo that George Harrison would have been proud to call his own. As the song wraps up, it fades back into nothingness, just as unassumingly as it began. I still don’t know what to call that decade between 2000 and 2009 (“the ’00s”?), but whatever it is, “New Slang” is one of my favorite songs from it, and Natalie Portman will never ruin it for me, no matter how hard she tries.


  1. zot says:

    One of my favorite songs of all time. I too was already a fan of the song and I was irritated by its appearance in “Garden State.” This is a terrific album, I’ve been planning to blog about it but you beat me to it, ha-ha. Nice post.

    1. Dave Gershman says:

      Hmmm…I’m beginning to suspect that we’re actually the same person…

  2. Alex says:

    but what line could better illustrate the character’s neat-at-first, less-appealing-the-more-you-think-about-it nature?

    same decade counterpoint: the beta band line in high fidelity, which did was introduced to the record store shoppers without introduction, it suddenly just started playing over the pa (and which actually end up selling me a copy of the 3 eps)

    1. Dave Gershman says:

      Good point…and yes, good comparison. A much more effective way of getting a song across (and I’m pretty sure that’s how I got into the Beta Band too)…

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