Thursday, October 21, 2004

Chutes Too Narrow The Shins

Release Date: 21 Oct., 2003
Review Written: 19 Feb., 2004
Rating: 9

Esque. It is a pestilence in music; a pandemic that has claimed the oeuvre of many a reviewer as it’s victim. Beatlesesque, Dylanesque, Zeppelinesque, Dexy’s Midnight Runnersesque. The suffix is tired and yet, occasionally, warranted.

Chutes Too Narrow, The Shins’ sophomore album on the Sub-Pop label, has been called Beatlesesque and other famous-band-nameesque derivatives and, on many fronts, it is highly deserving of these somnambulant praises. I’ll be damned if these songs don’t smack of Lennon, McCartney, and Brian Wilson. How so, you ask? Well, the songs don’t have the dueling vocal interplay of a Ln/McC penned tune. Nor does the entire album, even though it holds together well, possess the thematic unity and grandeur of Abbey Road. And, although the production is top-notch, it does not possess the epic perfection and pousse-café layering of Pet Sounds. What Chutes Too Narrow does have in common with The Beatles and the Beach Boys is the key component in what made those bands so amazing - a bright sense of what goes where. Belying the brevity of Chutes (it stands at a paltry 33:46 with the longest song weighing in at 4:25) is a subdued complexity – what it lacks in length it makes up in depth.

James Mercer’s vocals intertwine perfectly within the confines of the solid bass and coupled acoustic and electric guitars. Behind everything lies Jesse Sandoval’s perfectly in-the-pocket drumming. All these parts add up to far more than their sum because of their placement. From the first stabs of an overdriven guitar on “Kissing the Lipless” to the fading see-you-soon whistling on the closing “Those to Come” everything is in it’s right place. The Beatles and the Beach Boys had far more than their portion of knowing what goes where and The Shins approach that same level of knowledge.

This all sounds grand: an indie-rock blueprint on how to make a perfect record. Just plug in everything where it goes and you have a gem on your hands. But, the music lover asks, where is the soul? To put it plainly: everywhere. The harmonies are tight, but still loose enough to feel conceived at the moment of the take. In fact, Mercer’s singing in general, from his meandering melodies to his poignant lyrics, embodies a freedom and soul that is refreshing enough for spring and heavy enough for winter. Even the would-be clichéd slide guitar on the instant classic Wilcoesque (got ya!) “Gone for Good” feels alive and without remorse for it’s meanderings. Goodness - even the packaging, with its child-like pop-up dream world, shows a good measure of heart and soul.

Most of all, Chutes Too Narrow has the fun factor of The Beatles and the Beach Boys. Every song is brimming with a dichotomous lifeblood of youth and maturity. But, in the end, it moves and jangles with all of its plasma and urges you to forget your staunch companions while quickly rising to dance.


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