“Caring is Creepy” by The Shins

118. Song No. 1,640: “Caring is Creepy,” The Shins
Oh, Inverted World, 2001

There was a time when “This is way beyond my remote concern of being condescending” was the closest I came to having a personal mantra, which is regrettable but not nearly enough to diminish my love for this song in particular and The Shins in general.

Well before Garden State introduced this band to the world (thankyouverymuch), I was smitten with their early days’ ethereal, whimsical sound. The Shins have remained a favorite of mine since high school and, like Spoon and Nada Surf, are one of those bands that hasn’t put out an album I didn’t like across a pretty impressive career. This, their debut LP, has been a go-to favorite of mine for almost 20 years; the rest of their offerings have gotten comparably frequent plays, but the increasingly polished sound that came with every album kind of diminished that feeling of bare-bones instrumentalization and raw intimacy those pre-fame beginnings always seem absolutely drenched in.

The Shins wouldn’t put out their sophomore album — the infinitely more popular Chutes Too Narrow — ’til my junior year of college, so I had exactly one album from this band I loved accompanying me through the first half of my college experience. And Oh, Inverted World was a rotational mainstay: In particular, it sounds like freshman year’s first interminable winter break ripping me from the campus that already felt the most like home I’d ever known, a collection of songs that were the last defenses against the feeling of floating in some suspended ether, especially in that forever-taking last week when everyone else had already gone back to their respective schools and whatever seasonal employment I’d managed to secure was trickling to an end. An album I played in my dorm room, on the walks between classes, on my solo evening strolls through the athletic fields’ surrounding woods or to whatever lush patch of seclusion offered the best place to stare at the stars, in the library, for friends in their own rooms or cars, or a thousand other points on campus made those endless six weeks in the hometown and childhood bedroom that so quickly felt like alien terrain so much more tolerable for evoking all the places and people that made me feel like I actually belonged somewhere for the first time in my 18 years.

Throughout my introduction to learning how it just takes a few months and a jolting though welcome perspective shift to feel wholly not home in a place where I spent 15 years of my life, I had this album that was so already steeped in college that it felt unmistakably like it. All during that neverending winter break, “Caring is Creepy,” the album’s lead-off track, was a soul-warming dram on a cold day, slipping into a cozily oversized hoodie straight from the dryer, hearing a familiar snippet discern itself from waves of unintelligible nonsense — an invitation to a homecoming in its own right. It was that last bit of mooring to a place that I knew I’d eventually return to but felt so painfully far away, the music soothing my cranky soul that reminded me of all the places I’d left a piece of my heart but would be reunited with soon enough.

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