Rising Stars [Issue
Chutes Too Narrow
The pop song is
a medium that usually works best when it only lasts a short period of time.
Albuquerque indie rock quartet The Shins seem to have perfected the art of crafting
brisk, tuneful songs. The band recently returned with their triumphant sophomore
effort, Chutes Too Narrow (Sub Pop Records), a collection of quirky pop
nuggets that go by fast, but live on in your head for days and days.
musical palette from their debut disc Oh, Inverted World, yet remaining
distinctly low-fi, The Shins bring a wide-eyed optimism to the three-minute
pop song formula.
Like Inverted, Chutes was recorded primarily in singer James Mercer's
home studio. Unlike its predecessor however, Chutes employed the help
of an outside producer, Phil Ek (Modest Mouse, Built to Spill). "He's just
a really talented engineer," Mercer said in a recent telephone interview
from on the road in Cleveland. "That was definitely a great help. It was
kind of nice to have someone there with an outside ear."
Likewise, Mercer's band mates (keyboardist Marty Crandall, bassist Dave Hernandez
and drummer Jesse Sandoval) contributed more to the group's sound than on Inverted.
"It was a little bit more of a collaboration," Mercer commented. "As
long as you've got good people like we do, I think it's helpful."
Mercer, with his high-pitched, earnest voice, remains the focus of the band.
His lyrics are often surrealist and difficult to interpret. "I try not
to use typical metaphors," Mercer said. "I try to find something new,
and I think that's where it (the lyrical quirkiness) comes from."
From the soft-loud dynamics of "Kissing the Lipless" to the melodic
shuffle of "Mine's Not a High Horse," from the orchestral sweep of
"Saint Simon" to the acoustic lilt of "Young Pilgrims,"
The Shins channel forty years of pop music (The Beach Boys, the British invasion,
psychedelica, Pavement-style indie rock) into their unique sound.
For Mercer, the key to the songs' success lies in their brevity. "I want
it to be accessible," he stated, "without writing a whole slew of
different parts which starts to sound like prog-rock. You have to keep it short,
and I think that's what pop music is supposed to be anyway . . . I think we
have a short attention span when it comes to pop music."
Luckily for The Shins, clued-in audiences have long attention spans when it
comes to great music.
Chutes Too Narrow