<i>Chutes</i> a more fulfilling album than Shins' debut

BY
BY ANDREW M. GAERIG
Daily Arts Writer
Published November 4, 2003

For the adventurous music fan, reconciling plain ole indie rock
can be troublesome. Most facets of underground music can be easily
defended: Alt-country contains the irrefutable substance of
Americana, noise enthusiasts find sanctuary amid claims of
experimentalism, dance-punk acolytes can scream
“Liberation!” over break-beats until they’re blue
in the face, and the soundfuckery of art-rockers like Radiohead and
Wilco is hard to deny. Even rock revivalists can shroud themselves
in “tradition.”

Janna Hutz

So what happens when an indie band isn’t any of the above
things, but simply really, really good? For those weaned on any of
the aforementioned genres, simple rock music can feel like
surrender — an indulgence of high school seniors and that
casual music fan who doesn’t really get it. So it goes for
the Shins, a band with little to offer to elitists and everything
to offer to music fans.

Drawing rave reviews and boatloads of fans for their 2001 debut,
Oh Inverted World, the Shins took a two-year break, cramming
even more pressure into the brief 34-minute running time of
Chutes Too Narrow. Pulling cues from folk, country and, most
notably, power-pop, the Shins’ melodicism is unmarred by
elaborate arrangements or obtuse songwriting. Rather, the twists
and turns come from subtle songcraft and clever wordplay, leaving
truly accessible music that can be appreciated from all fronts.

The group’s power hinges on vocalist James Mercer’s
graceful tenor, one equally capable of arching hooks and tender
acoustic ruminations. His playful, literate lyrics will garner the
“smart” tag, but the real genius lay in the
band’s crafty, subdued beds of sound. On Chutes Too
Narrow
, the Shins shy from its debut’s pronounced
styling, opting instead for sparse, shifty instrumentation. The
minimal approach will disappoint some, but the band’s deft
arrangements give the album variety: Check the electricity of
“So Says I” or the lilting country of “Gone for
Good.” The tongue-twisting “Fighting in a Sack”
and the rambunctious “Turn A Square” are both
flawlessly executed. Elsewhere, “Kissing the Lipless”
and “Young Pilgrims” prove that Mercer’s voice
needs little to accentuate his stellar songwriting.

Oh Inverted World was lauded mostly on the merits of a
few strong singles and its sudden arrival, and while the praise was
certainly warranted, Chutes Too Narrow is a more realized
and ultimately more fulfilling record. It won’t benefit from
the first album’s cult-like popularity, but it cements Mercer
as one of underground rock’s foremost tunesmiths, and the
Shins as a fantastic pop band. Nothing more, but certainly nothing
less.

Rating: 4 stars.