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Ask the band directly, what are The Shins about, and the four friends’ free-for-all flow of deadpan wit, wild metaphor and the occasional outburst of song (evidence of not just a clever group of people but a happy one) stops cold.

“Oh, I don’t know,” begins a hesitant James Mercer, who as The Shins’ primary songwriter and singer is generally deferred to in interviews.

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