Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"Tell Sir Thomas More we've got another failed attempt"

#13 Chutes Too Narrow, The Shins, Sub Pop, 2003

In the winter of 2001 I picked up an LP I had been eyeing for some time at Radiofree and made one of my few "cover-based purchases" a la Captain Ultra. The record was Oh Inverted World and I immediately wished I had purchased the CD as well. It was the perfect work album - dainty pop with occasional '60s rock outburst and wonderfully impenetrable lyrics, all of which I could only enjoy on the confines of my stereo. Three years later, seemingly everyone was abuzz about this album due to a Zach Braff/Natalie Portman induced Shins fervor and I couldn't help laughing a bit, mostly because, though I think Oh Inverted World is solid (it made my Top #35), I thought their best record was the relatively recent Chutes Too Narrow.

Far from a sophomore slump, Chutes might just be the best rock soundtrack to the first half of the double aughts, despite it's absolutely atrocious cover and booklet art. I honestly can't think of an album I played more at work in 2003-2004 than this record. At just over 33 minutes, it was the perfect album to spin waiting on the lunch break or when you were counting down the minutes to 5 o'clock and could soak up some retro-pop genius. Speaking of great side one track ones, "Kissing the Lipless" is a doozy, critiquing soured friendships over great acoustic pop. The Shins cover all kinds of genre territory here too - rockabilly ("Fighting in a Sack"), roots country ("Gone for Good"), '50s surf ("Turn A Square"), and synth pop ("Mine's Not A High Horse"). My favorite two tracks, though, are "So Says I" and "Saint Simon," both of which, with their allusions to socialism, violent statism, and religion, spoke volumes to me as I moved from a strictly religious worldview to a political one. In "So Says I" James Mercer strikes at the ironic heart of failed statist communism: "Because it made no money, nobody saved no one's life," and then further explores the truth uncovered by totalitarian logics, a truth equally valid in our world of free markets and "healthy" competition: "We are a brutal kind." With "Saint Simon" he takes a softer approach, both lyrically and musically, where a personified Mercy offers some comfort to disillusioned dogmatists, respecting the end of their idealism. Mercer's lyrics resonate with me in a profound way: "Since I don't have the time nor mind to figure out the nursery rhymes that helped us out in making sense of our lives/the cruel uneventful state of apathy releases me/I value them but I won't cry every time one's wiped out." For those tired of the Garden State Shins AND the back and forth of the weekly grind to make the Man's dollar, I would highly suggest Chutes Too Narrow.

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