Album Reviews

The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow

(Sub Pop) UK release date: 15 March 2004

The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow shin n. the front of the leg below the knee. v shinned, shinning (shin up) climb quickly.

I’d say the latter dictionary definition would definitely apply to folk-rockers The Shins. If their 2001 debut Oh, Inverted World saw them woo music scribes from New York to Nepal, then this sweet release should see them caress and court all us eager music beavers and see them ascend to, well, who knows… but who cares? The formula’s simple. Take the finest guitar lead pop, add some keyboards, emo airbrushing and some post Bob Dylan reinterpretation, naturally. Think Pet Sounds and Weezer‘s Blue Album with MOR indie-rama.

Who’d have thought that from a bunch of Latinos and a German who played in a Dinosaur Jr tribute band, especially after being daunted by the prospect of Kissing The Lights opening things like another bogey-smeared emo hanky. Thankfully a minute in and the presence of messy electric guitars offer some reassurance: a by-product of Weezer’s non-conformist Pinkerton days. There on in it’s all effortless leg (or Shin if you will) work, clocking up treat after treat. Neo-folk medley Mine’s Not a High Horse stirs up ’80s cartoon synth with singer James Mercer’s sing-speak diaphragm work. So Says I ups the tempo, with Mercer in falsetto overload complementing the rip-roaring indie swagger and equally unashamed pop naïvety – it sees Rivers Cuomo and Brian Wilson almost jostling to come out of Mercer.

Some may criticise the quintet for making mundane pansy sop but unlike Dashboard Confessional, Chutes Too Narrow has no pre-cast mould, no blueprint. As each song rolls by you notice. And by pop we’re not talking the polymer-piss-poor-pound-pulling-pop of Busted or Wheatus. The Shins transcend the best sounds of generations of pop from the Wonder Years through to those revolutionary ’80s. Yes, even Morrissey and Marr deserve a thumbs up. If ever any proof was needed then mosey on over to Saint Simon, the most delightful sinister ’80s pop ballad since There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. Amongst the abundance of album highlights Pink Bullets props out like a glazed stalactite, mostly because its the darkest song on the album. The organ hum, the grainy guitars, the harmonica and Mercer’s dwelling hum climax perfectly just as he tentatively mutters the words “…on a winter’s day.”

Gone for Good was the MP3 that was readily available and got hordes, including yours truly, hooked. Resist the urge to fire up your trusty file sharing application now and download the whole thingthough – you’d do well to buy this album and give pop-rock’s newest heroes a good shin up.

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