Chutes Too Narrow
It’s been a tough couple of years for Shins fans who got hooked on the Portland-by-way-of-Albuquerque band’s marvelous 2001 debut, Oh, Inverted World!. Two years of waiting without so much as an EP to tide us over; those Flake Music re-releases were nice but didn’t quite cut it. So is Chutes Too Narrow worth the wait? Yes, yes, and thrice yes, but let’s qualify: It’s pretty much Oh, Inverted World! Part II, so if you were hoping for this long-awaited follow-up to sound exactly the same, you won’t be disappointed. It’s almost like having a double album released in two installments.
Some will say this is a lateral move on the Shins’ part, almost too cautious of them, but what did they expect a new Shins album to sound like if they still wanted it to sound like a new Shins album? All the trademark goodies are here—same oblique lyrics, same lovely vocal harmonies, same fragile flowerpot pop—and it still sounds as fresh as it did two years ago. Chutes Too Narrow is just as loaded with vocal hooks as its predecessor, hooks to lodge in your head while you’re trying to sleep and wake you again in the morning. Sounds great the first time, even better the tenth. (Andy Smetanka)
You know what, though? To hell with those tinker-toy Shins and their same precious record twice. If you want something more ambitious, something with a thirst for adventure, get the new Joggers album. It is far and away the more interesting and exciting piece of work. Compared to the timid Chutes Too Narrow—a place for everything and everything it its place—Solid Guild sounds like a train plowing through a sheet-metal factory.
Gloriously so. So many voices—not just the four singing members of the band, but the twin guitars going full twisted tilt in songs like “Hot Autism” and “Little Kings,” whinnying and scratching and laying down amazing moiré patterns where they mesh and mingle. These guitars can sound loose and disjointed or they can muster a precision attack, but the guys playing them—Ben Whitesides and Murphy Kasiewicz—are always grasping and clawing for something new, and most of the time succeeding.
And back to the four singing members: What was the last record you bought that combined frazzled guitars with pumping disco-funk bass and iced it all with four-man shape-note harmonies, as on “Back to the Future”? The new Shins record is a boring pop shut-in compared to this. (Andy Smetanka)
There ought to be more bands like this, i.e. diehard Queen fans both eager and uniquely qualified to show it in their music. The three members of Apollo Sunshine must be diehard Queen fans, because every song on Katonah has at least 15 seconds that sound like Queen in full rock-opera mode bringing a song off A Night at the Opera to its suitably symphonic conclusion. The guitarist even sounds like Brian May, firing off pinched-up classical doodles right and left, and the rest of the band just wraps around him like a glove.
There doesn’t appear to be a concept, in the concept-album sense, behind Katonah, but you’d never know it from just half-listening (in other words, not the words) to these 10 songs that melt together like a perfect pocket pop symphony, or a perfect patty melt. There’s something that binds it, but it’s hard to pick whatever that might be out of the tumult of strange twists and turnarounds on an album that squirms like a basket full of puppies. If Queen is the foundation, the Squeeze team of Difford and Tilbrook are the basement full of forgotten melodies to pick up and dust off one at a time. If “I Was On the Moon” doesn’t sound like Squeeze, I’ll eat my copy of Argybargy. A sparkling debut. (Andy Smetanka)
Beet, Maize and Corn
Wow, what a month for fabulous pop releases! Rounding out your must-hear list this week is the new album from England’s High Llamas, essentially main Llama Sean O’Hagen with three times as many musicians at his disposal as he had on 2001’s percolating Buzzle Bee. Rolling Stone dismisses Beet, Maize and Corn as “immaculately crafted retro elevator music,” which is right on the money but misses the point: You can put this album on and forget about everything except the vague sense of comfort it gives you, or you can get on it with the headphones and feast away on an intriguing, album-length collection of musical sketches and suggestions, like excerpts from a season of Gilbert and Sullivan productions. Like an Anglophile Smile (well, they are British) laced with allusions to pubs called The Leaf and Lime and other aspects of English country living instead of Brian Wilson’s opera glasses, vegetables, surf’s up, etc. See you in the chill tent. (Andy Smetanka)