Chutes Too Narrow (Sub Pop)
by Scott Deckman
Chutes Too Narrow, The Shins‘ second record, kicks off like their critically-acclaimed debut, Oh, Inverted World, with a tune more annoying than anything. On “Kissing the Lipless,” James Mercer whines like a petulant puppy who’s rapidly approaching the un-cute stage, and you’re ready to give’m a smackdown. And like the first record, song two is the goods. Acceptable psycho-twee-with emo leanings, “Mine’s Not a High Horse” makes you remember why there was such a buzz about the band in the first place. Mercer speaks cryptically of someone drowning in holy water, with a lush accompaniment that sounds like Belle & Sebastian on steroids.
And, ironically, maybe that’s why it’s so hard to be completely sold on these fellers. In today’s label-crazy epoch, we’re made to feel as if we have to know what we’re getting, as if bereft of categorization, art loses all meaning. This, of course, is wrong-headed, but subconsciously, it is what it is. On the other hand, it’s that lack of formula that critics dig, like the obligatory alt-country “Gone For Good”: we can thank Jeff Tweedy for more than the cover of Magnet and genuflecting at the throne of Gram Parsons, and “So Says I,” which finds The Shins emulating Fountains Of Wayne… only on acid instead of weed.
Delicate, intricate songsmiths these guys.
Having been around the music scene in various guises for a decade, has the disillusionment with the spoils of indie rock glory be the “side” of Mercer “that wants to grab the yoke from the pilot and just fly the whole mess into the sea” on “Young Pilgrims”? Well, I ain’t no Sherlock Holmes, and thank the Lord, if so, 221B Baker Street wouldn’t have been any safer than Iraq – it’s fun to pretend. But the thing that makes The Shins’ self-important horn-rimmed obsession with the heart and blah America real surfaces on the record’s closer, “Those to Come.” Here, Mercer may or may not take a cue from friends Modest Mouse: “They are cold, still, waiting in the ether to form, feel, kill, propagate only to die… dissipate coldly and strangely return.”
Epistemology or the Tao, it’s your call.
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