The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow
The Shins' second album Chutes Too Narrow has finally received a UK release, having launched on US shores in October last year. It would have been a tough job for the Albuquerque quartet to fulfil the promise generated by debut effort Oh, Inverted World, which fought its way into the hearts of many critics, especially considering the band have uprooted to Portland and changed their line-up.
At first glance, Chutes Too Narrow is a schizophrenic beast unsure whether to slot itself into the acoustic singer-songwriter niche or whether to rock out with electric Marr chords. However, on subsequent listens, you soon realise that the album’s charm rests upon this jarring jolt between quiet subtlety and overblown pop aesthetics. It has a pristine sound that can only sound the way it would had it been recorded in a confined, comfortable setting, so it’s no surprise that the album was recorded in lead vocalist James Mercer’s basement. Weighing in at just around the thirty-four minute mark, Chutes Too Narrow is a fun, primary-colour driven acoustic-rock album that serves the listener more each time the listener inserts it into their stereo.
Brilliantly opening with Kissing The Lipless, a song that begins barely, and starkly stripped down, before firing into crashing electric chords for the chorus that ring out as long as you want them to. It’s the sort of song that would prove to be the peak for most indie-pop outfits, and yet The Shins maintain the same form throughout. Mine’s Not A High Horse is a fun song dealing with inner-band turmoil, and has a wild frontier element to its production values, with keyboard-synthesized strings and a mesh of acoustic strumming. Single So Says I sounds like it would had The Violent Femmes recorded Hatful Of Hollow, and is a sunny, pounding number with heightened jingly-jangliness.
Fighting In A Sack has sweaty adrenaline drenched all over the recording. You easily sense that the album is essentially a band playing live in a basement, and in turn you associate more raw integrity with the sounds. The harmonica sounds real along with the momentum-building drum fills. Pink Bullets and Young Pilgrims provide the album’s quieter, more introspective moments, and are so stripped-down you would be forgiven for claiming them as demos. But that’s the beauty of The Shins, they can do lo-fi and lull you in, and before you know it, they have you dancing around the room.