4.0 out of 5
With a clappity-clap and a whoo, The Shins open up their major label sophomore release, Chutes Too Narrow. This New Mexican quartet in many ways could be mistaken for Beach Boys incarnate (see The Thrills ), although they emit more sheer power in many of their songs than the Brian Wilson led group. But, like the Beach Boys, The Shins implement poppy hooks, clever harminization and adroit brevity into each of their ten songs contained on this album, marking this as one of 2003's most overlooked releases.
Rockabilly, folk and acoustic rock are what mark The Shins' sound, and 'Kissing the Lipless' doesn't fail in those regards. The opening track begins like a bonfire serenade, with lead singer James Mercer almost whispering along to light acoustic accompaniment. The beat soon picks up and Mercer changes his voice from soft to a pleaful wail. Interwoven between states of folk and harder rock, 'Kissing the Lipless' provides a propitious introduction.
Another notable track, 'So Says I' brings out that all too familiar beach rock sound described earlier. Two-and-a-half minutes long, layered vocals and a catchy guitar push this song over the edge, making it one of the best songs on the disc. Profoundly poetic, Mercer yearns, "In our darkest hours we have all asked for some angel to come sprinkle his dust all around, but all our crying voices they can't turn it around and you've had some crazy conversations of your own." I shall leave all interpretations up to the listener.
By far the greatest song on the album, 'Turn a Square' contains Mercer's signature witty lyrics."
"She shone up bright like a knife, wearing tennis shorts made of stripes. Hand in hand to the grass, and we got it right. Got it nice, nice, nice. Just a glimpse of an ankle and I react like it's 1805."
A song about simultaneous feelings of love and lust, 'Turn a Square' is the most Romantic track on the record. "My head's like a kite" and "I'm a walking cliche'" describe the powerful spell that love can have upon a person. Contrary to the complex prose, the music itself is quite modest. Purposfully simple guitar riffs and drum beats provide a well-balanced base for such an elegant lyrical message.
Chutes Too Narrow is simple and brief, yet it is that very quality of minimalism that makes this album work. Slowly rising to the forefront of Indie rock, look for these guys to blast out of college and satellite radio obscurity and into the mainstream. Don't believe me? Look at Modest Mouse.