THE SHINS Exploring the new “human condition.”
by Chazz Madrigal

The Shins

Fri Oct 31

Music Millennium

As Shins singer James Mercer describes it, their new record Chutes Too Narrow captures some of the "airy" feel of 2001's Oh, Inverted World. But the new stuff is definitely more understated. Recorded largely in the basement of Mercer's Portland home with production work by The Shins and OIH producer Phil Ek, CTN is the work of an evolved band.

"It wasn't really a conscious thing [to evolve]; it was there a little bit, but we really wanted to make a more accessible record. Mostly, it's just due to better equipment--we didn't have to use as much reverb," Mercer says, explaining the tighter, straight-ahead pop of this record. From the initial blast of "Kissing the Lipless," the album's opener, you can see what he means. Mercer throws himself into the forefront of the track, his voice clear and more polished; the band has almost completely cleansed itself of psychedelia, opting for a sharper, if not more deceptively bland, sound upon first listen.

In fact, there is little sonic matter on the disc that gives any indication this is the same band who released the surprise hit that was Oh, Inverted World. For those unwilling to follow Mercer's musical leap, you may find solace in the personal and soul-searching tracks, "Gone for Good" and "Saint Simon," the latter of which includes one of his best lines on the new record: "I'm trying hard not to give in/Battened down to fair the wind/read my head, at least pretend/allow myself no mock defense step into the night."

Mercer says the lyric is "really about the human condition and wondering why we're here. The fact that we are able to contemplate that is fascinating in itself. Seeing things that are so messed up in the world, and wondering how to change them--it's just so much easier to take a nihilist's view of things."

If not nihilistic, there is a pervasive feeling of solemnity and determination on the CTN that defies its candy-like production. Pondering the whole of human existence never sounded so sweet.