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The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow

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Recently, on a holiday episode of Fox’s moneyed teenfest, The O.C., wounded wisenheimer/nerd Seth Cohen put together a package of matching holiday gifts for the two hot girls he’s been improbably dating. Along with a DVD of The Goonies (not just a kid’s flick, Seth assures us) was a copy of the newest Shins’ album. “I can see a smarty like him pickin’ up on Chutes Too Narrow,” I told my wife. The disc has it all for a chronically misunderstood college tracker: callow yet melodic vocals, alienated lyrics that are sensitive without being sappy, plus folk-rock sonics that wouldn’t sound too out of time in 1969.
Where the band’s Sub Pop debut, Oh, Inverted World, came close to drifting off in mock-apples-in-stereo airiness, Chutes is more winningly grounded. Singer/guitarist James Mercer has apparently decided to stop hiding behind production masks – and saved the flourishes for more tasteful folkish touches like a dose of Dylanesque squawkmonica, subtle cello or madrigalin’ vocal double-tracks. The results recall everything from the Love of Forever Changes to Jane’s Addiction. Mercer and the band go from romping pop-rock (“Fighting in A Sack” or “Turn A Square”) to soft-spoken Nick Drakery (“Those to Come”) with unashamed deftness.

Ain’t a lot of sophomore albums in rock that show as much self-confident growth as this (Mercer’s guitarwork, in particular, sounds much less tentative that it appeared on the first release). Chutes is one of ‘em. Mercer may be an out-of-time malcontent (there are several references to sailin’ the seven seas on this disc), but he’s a damn tuneful one.
So, good choice, Seth – even if you did wind up giving the packages to your parents instead of them two Orange County babes. (Bet it gets your folks pulling out their old Left Banke albums.) But The Goonies not a kid’s flick? Sorry, buddy, but even smart pop nerds have their blind spots. . .

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.