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The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow

The ShinsChutes Too Narrow (Subpop)

If you live in a warm weather locale (damn you New Jersey and you’re frosty cold winters!), tomorrow morning—very early—wake up and look out of your window. The sun should just be rising, only enough to cast a glistening light off of the dewdrops on each blade of grass. There will be a slight fog cast over the horizon. Now, go back at mid-morning. It’ll be warmer; the sun should have dried up every last bit of moisture in the air and on the ground.

And that’s the perfect metaphor for the progression from The Shins’ debut Oh, Inverted World! to their latest, Chutes Too Narrow.

Oh, Inverted World! was ultimately an incredibly hyped album, and for all its genius was also pretty juvenile and na├»ve, the band’s inexperience leading to moments of imperfection. Chutes Too Narrow finds those moments all but washed away under the strength of James Mercer’s songwriting ability. The haze that lent itself to Inverted World‘s duration, while strong on atmosphere, homogenized much of the album; leaving the songs consistent but like-minded. Each song on Chutes is an exploration of something fresh and new for the band, and the band pull it off quite convincingly. The only common bond between the ten songs on Chutes is Mercer’s voice, which hits its watershed moment during the bridge of “Saint Simon” when Mercer finds himself aching next to a pained string arrangement. This flourish alone is more moving then full albums usually are; the arrangement’s weightlessness is perfectly counteracted by the gravity of its emotion.

Elsewhere, “Kissing the Lipless” is all loud guitar bursts and pure pop fury, “Those to Come” is the long lost b-side from Sunny Day Real Estate’s How it Feels to Be Something On, and “Gone for Good” is the beautiful pedal-steel heartbreaker Ryan Adams is too cool to write. Chutes finds The Shins resting comfortably not on their laurels, but on a strong sense of the strength of the songs. At first, you won’t be able to find a track that’s blatantly original—all of the points of lineage are easily traceable—yet with each subsequent listen you discover that the hue The Shins project isn’t anyone’s but their own. Originality and experimentation are things to be celebrated, but there are only so many things under the sun. It is another breed of great band that can take a language and speak it in its own dialect.

You can download an MP3 of “So Says I” via Subpop.