on 4 June 2006
The hype surrounding this band is huge, and I have to admit that I didn't really understand why when I first listened to them. The music is so subtle, the melodies are so original that on first listen the sheer brilliance of this album passed me by. It was only after about a month of listening to it that I realised how deep it had worked its way into my brain. The playing is simple, yet simultaneously richly layered and textured - if that sounds like a contradiction I apologise!
For anyone who has not yet heard anything by The Shins, they could be described as folky-poppy-indie-rock, a lazy grouping of words that utterly fails to describe the sort of rich, beautiful, sparkling songs that this band makes.
Unlike on their first album (Oh, Inverted World) where the songs were drenched in an almost psychedelic wash of reverb, feedback and studio trickery, here the production is crystal clear. All the instruments are allowed their space so that the beautifully subtle playing is (I feel) more effective and powerful than on the debut. James Mercer's gorgeously nuanced vocals are particularly well served by the production, sitting right in the centre of the mix, every subtle inflection clear to the listener.
For me, standout tracks are hard to choose on an album so brilliantly constructed. Other reviewers have pointed out their favourite tracks, so I will just pick one that doesn't seem to have been mentioned yet - Mine's Not a High Horse. This track, like all the others features beautiful melodies, excellent instrumentation and unusual but wonderful lyrics. What makes it stand out for me? That solo guitar in the bridge...how can a few notes, plucked so sparringly, carry such emotional weight?!
This album is so well written, so well played, and so full of light and energy that I challenge anyone not to fall for its charms, assuming they give it the time it deserves.
on 30 July 2004
everything i heard about the shins before hearing this album seemed to portray them as a quirky, odd, 'indie' band. this all may be true, but it somehow makes them sound like an exclusive underground thing. their music, however deserves a much wider audience. after a few months of owning this album, i can confidently say that it is the best pop album of the last 5 years. singer james mercer is without doubt the latest in a line of brilliant american songwriters, from brian wilson over black francis and rivers cuomo. the ten songs featured here are beautiful and uplifting, each single one has a brilliant melody.
track by track:
1. kissing the lipless: a low key opener, a grower rather than an attention grabber. starts with a strummed acoustic guitar and then almost turns into a full on emo-rocker. but not quite. 8/10
2. mine's not a high horse: a subtle yet insisting melody, nice keyboard arpeggios in the chorus. 8/10
3. so says i: a full on jangly guitar rocker, also the first single. very enthusiastic singing and great guitars just make me wanna get up and do something. the lyrics are basically a big telling off for man "we are a brutal kind". 9/10
4. a relaxed acoustic number, once again a fantastic melody and cool lyrics. 8/10
5. saint simon: the stand out track, an absolutely stunning piece of music. a beautifully sung hauntuing melody against a complex, lush musical background; the best song of the century. 10/10
6. turn a square: a rockier number guaranteed to put a smile on yer face: "a glimpse of her ankle and i, react like it's 1805" 7/10
7. pink bullets: another amazing song. the lyrics are pure poetry, the song itself is a thing of true beauty. a simple acoustic guitar and a lovely guitar line; 10/10
8. fighting in a sack: another upbeat number, similar to 6. 8/10
9. gone for good: a wonderful country song with a very memorable chorus and cool lyrics as always. 10/10
10. those to come: the least remarkable song on the album, features only james mercer singing over a sparse acoustic. lovely nonetheless. 7/10
the only slight problem is that it is too short. it is otherwise perfect.
on 17 November 2003
On the Shins' debut album, 2001's "Oh, Inverted World", singer James Mercer's voice was hidden beneath a summery haze. While the songs on that album received comparisons to those of both the Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkel, the melodies Mercer span were suppressed only by the layers of sound which buried his voice. On "Chutes Too Narrow", the band’s second album, the haze is gone. Mercer's voice is clear and the tales he tells are as full of vivid imagery as the songs are full of hooks. The lyrics here are intelligent and heartfelt, each and every song brilliantly written. The album reaches a peak in “Gone for good”, in which Mercer sings, over a steady rhythm section and some well-placed blasts of pedal steel, “I found a fatal flaw/In the logic of love”. And then, after less than 35 minutes, it’s all over, leaving us to hope that the next album won’t be long coming - and in the meantime, to play this one again. Over and over again.
on 20 May 2004
I won't give 5 star ratings cheaply but this album is worth it. Its largely excellent throughout; the best songs though are 'Kissing the Lipless' and 'Gone for Good' in particular. The tunes are beautifully melodic, the vocals pitch perfect, the songwriting in particular is of an unusually high standard; the lyrics are poetic but not too obscure in meaning; makes a welcome difference to some indie songwriters, i.e. Coldplay.
I've seen this compared to 'The Thrills' album somewhere, which is right to some extent, but this is definitely better: no whiningly annoying filler songs to flick past thank God. The only annoying thing is the very short running time of the album, just over 30 minutes of music, but the loss in length is (more or less) traded off against the high quality of the songs.
It's also just as good as 'Oh, Inverted World', if you've heard that album before, again by The Shins. Barring a small miracle, not too many people will hear of The Shins in Britain, but if you're into this sort of stuff then you will definitely like The Shins.
on 5 February 2005
After discovering The Shins first album in 2002, and now their follow up album, I am utterley convinced that this band has something new to offer the music world. They are a musical genius. They just seem to be taking off in the UK, keep hearing snippets of them on the radio. Buy this album, you will not regret it, then invest in Oh Inverted World, they are both awesome. What an incredible band.
on 14 November 2007
The Shins. A band that will hopefully release many albums over the years, some will I've no doubt turn out to be interesting, breaking new ground wherever the jog button lands and some maybe less inspiring (dread the thought!) But it is quite clear to this reviewer that this unashamedly colourful yet subtle record is the early classic to be grouped in with other records of this calibre. "This years Model", "The Stone Roses", "Radiator" etc All lay the same unfortunate burden on the artist that smirks 'This may well be as good as it gets mate, don't expect something this good in 20 years time!' Cynical though it may seem, songs like 'Pink Bullets' and 'Those to Come' are so haunting and effortlessly uninhibited that I can't help but crave this quality of song writing for the rest of the bands career, however unrealistic that may seem. Within a mere 33 minutes the album delivers everything from dense cryptic imagery that baffles and astonishes ('all this way before murder was cool.' from Pink Bullets) to melodies of such warmth and grace they will have you smiling as though you had just heard Revolver with fresh ears. When Mercer sings "my heads like a kite when such a creature I sight!' you can almost hear the entire population of shy males in the world rejoicing in approval as it is played and sung with such frantic bite and conviction. The excitement levels reach delirious heights when halfway through `Fighting in a Sack' comes a harmonica solo that makes you want to dance like your in a pit of multicoloured rubber balls at the local adventure playground, it's THAT joyful and unconstrained. A stark musical contrast would be the contemplative, highly wordy (a word that could describe most of what's here) Saint Simon, a song that strives to never back down from the 'pretence' that has been hurled in its composer's direction. A juxtaposing theme seems to develop and invite you in with repeated listens. Most of the songs on Chutes Too Narrow exude a stubborn intensity where feelings or loss and nostalgia (Bullets) are just as violently shunned aside by a thrashy punk rock vigour (Kissing the Lipless, Sack - the later sounding like The Beach Boys on speed) Like many songwriters, Mercer seems to exorcise his (very warped) demons through his craft. But there is no new age 'heart on sleeve' whining to be found here and he comes out literally fighting and daring you to question his logic. On the jump-start Live favourite 'So Says I' he professes that WE ARE A BRUTAL KIND, incapable of saving our own lives, the childish, almost throwaway nature of the melody appropriately fitting this audacious statement. This line is perfectly balanced with James Mercer's 'laugh out load' observation that our prayers to dust sprinkling angels in times of darkness are just we silly humans having `conversations' with ourselves. Brilliant, it had me tingling with self-righteousness but cackling like a hyena at his honesty.
I am still discovering why this record leaves me so breathless and envious of such young wisdom put to such gorgeous pop music. The production is raw, deceptively simple and the songs create perfect quiet/load equilibrium throughout making this an effortlessly sequenced album. The Shins are unique in their approach. In years to come, it won't be the Keiser Chiefs, The Klaxons or even Muse that will stand the test of time for doing something different, it'll be this band with this seamless record at the top of the list. They dare to be weird and different but do it with soul and intelligence. After all, it was always the strange guy at school who grew to be the most successful and ended up with the most beautiful girl, this record is no different. Full of hope and above all FIGHT!
on 17 February 2005
The Shins' music grows on you with each listen. For me, this album took a while to grow, yet it becomes compulsive. Every song has the distilled essence of James Mercer's innocent worldview crystallised in the lyric, with his extraordinary melodies and warm singing voice embellished at every turn by tghe loveliest melodies on a variety of keyboards and guitars.
But performance aside, it's the songs themselves that make The Shins so special. These really are wonderful songs. The lyrics begin as somewhat cryptic but after a time the Mercer image library begins to make sense and the melodic and harmonic structures are a delight.
At this point, one normally encounters an "urge to buy" statement. Instead, I'd say listen to "Pink Bullets" a few times, then decide.
Once you have this album you will want the first. Then the pleasure begins to multiply, as that is an enchanting counterpoint to this rich warm album of cryptic beautiful pop.
on 25 February 2005
Chutes too Narrow is utterly fabulous. The melodies are intricately layered on effortlessly immense chord patterns humbled with a voice that cuts through it all. And despite the heavy plaudits I apply to the music, it is in my opinion the lyrics which stand out furthest. Inventive, astute and prophetic, words are beaten into lines to deliver nurtured bubbles of the sublime.
"walking up a slide, and there are those we know who'd have us five miles off the track".
"A cold and wet November dawn, and there are no barking sparrows".
All the tracks are fab apart from the last, but in particular 'So says ' 'kissing the lipless' and the harmonica on 'Pink Bullets' are summat special.
Its a shame not many people over here know about the shins, cos they're so so so so so so so so, good.
on 11 March 2006
There's not enough reviews for this fantastically crafted album! The Shins have a way with songs that is so individual and refreshing. The melodies are surprising yet ultimately catchy and rewarding. The lyrics are slightly esoteric but interesting and entertaining. The songs that really stand out for me are:
"Turn a Square" which is a wonderfully catchy and beautifully constructed uplifting song with the classic line "have I left my home just to whine on this microphone?"
"So Says I" is again so interestingly constructed, with haunting lovely lyrics.
Also "Pink Bullets" and "Saint Simon"
The Shins are not getting the attention they deserve with this album which I think is more mature than "Oh! inverted world". I've given 4 stars as despite its merits its not "a classic". Maybe they're getting there though!!
much could be made of this versus their debut and maybe Oh! Inverted World is more of a fave for me. but, an embarassment of riches ain't nobody's fault and its nice to hear a sophomore disc that shows musical progress and passion and confidence by a band in its material. bottom line is great tunes, great lyrics, (shows a sense of humour and melancholy can co-exist perfectly in a single song). but the bottom, BOTTOM line is you should sell your house if it's what it takes to get just one track from this fantastic LP, Saint Simon. if you ain't whistling it for the rest of the year, you really are beyond hope. alas the hopes that this will sell trillions will fall on the tone deaf ears of an X-Factor nation, but if you want some sunshine in your life, but it now. It's the herd's loss not yours!