Music Reviews
Chutes Too Narrow

The Shins Chutes Too Narrow

(Sub Pop) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

When you think of the year's most anticipated indie releases, you wouldn't necessarily expect one to come from a band that got its humble beginnings in Albuquerque, New Mexico. But here you have it, the newest album from the Shins, an album that makes good on all the praise heaped upon Oh, Inverted World and allows it to flourish to a whole other level. The same influences from the past are strewn all over Chutes Too Narrow - the unabashed pop melodies mixed with remnants of British Invasion and other 60's Rock influences - but this time they are modified to fit into new, more versatile song structures.

When you think of the year's most anticipated indie releases, you wouldn't necessarily expect one to come from a band that got its humble beginnings in Albuquerque, New Mexico. But here you have it, the newest album from the Shins, an album that makes good on all the praise heaped upon Oh, Inverted World and allows it to flourish to a whole other level. The same influences from the past are strewn all over Chutes Too Narrow - the unabashed pop melodies mixed with remnants of British Invasion and other 60's Rock influences - but this time they are modified to fit into new, more versatile song structures.

If there was one knock on Oh, Inverted World, it was that the songs, though good, were a bit sonically limited. But by trading some of World's immediate accessibility for richer textures and sparser arrangements, the Shins use this album to prove that experimentation, by all means, has a place within the confines of indie pop.

The production on the album is key - vibrant and understated, dropping World's sometimes overwhelming love for reverb and replacing it with a rawer musical approach, emphasizing subtly and songcraft in a way their previous album did not - it's even more impressive considering that the songs were recorded in frontman James Mercer's basement. And from the yell that launches the second verse of opener Kissing the Lipless, it's clear that Mercer's production skills are not the only thing that has grown. Mercer's melodies are bouncy and driving, while still off-kilter enough to require multiple listens before showing the full scope of their intentions.

The album sustains a frenetic momentum throughout its entirety, and in some songs the lyrics hardly give Mercer a chance to rest. Pink Bullets is debatably the most affecting song the Shins have written, while definitely the closest they'll probably ever come to a Neil Young impression. The wryly delicate Saint Simon uses intermittent bursts of theatricality to create one of the best pop songs of the year, though a close second might be Turn a Square. If this song doesn't make you want to smile and sing along - well, I don't know what's wrong with you, but there's been substantial progress made in the field of mood-altering pharmaceuticals that you may want to look into.

The strength of these songs certainly allows listeners to forgive less remarkable tracks like Mine's Not a High Horse and Young Pilgrims, though perhaps not the albums two closing tracks - Gone for Good is the most obvious reminder that, yes, the band originated in New Mexico, and Those To Come strives for a Nick Drake-like fractured subtlety, but is hindered by a finger-picked guitar line that is too sappy to be genuinely moving. It also includes a fairly trite lyrical analysis of existence, especially surprising considering Mercer's customary skill with words.

But despite the weak finish, Chutes Too Narrow is still a fantastic next step for the Shins, building on the wildly successful formula of Oh, Inverted World, while still managing to push their sound in new directions. For a band that languished in obscurity for almost ten years, this is a major triumph indeed.