The unexpected success of the Shins' 2001 debut, Oh, Inverted World, which sold over 100,000 copies, can't be attributed simply to the fact that "New Slang" showed up in a McDonald's commercial and an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; it was immediately obvious that the Albuquerque quartet (whose leader, James Mercer, has recently relocated to Portland) had stumbled onto something special. Mercer's zigzagging melodies are at once complex and unforgettably catchy, and the band's spacious arrangements--laden with deft, delicate vocal harmonies evocative of the Beach Boys and the Zombies--fill the air like laughing gas. The new Chutes Too Narrow (Sub Pop), sounds bigger, more assured, and more contemporary than the first album; that's what steady touring and a heftier recording budget will do for you. Drummer Jesse Sandoval hits harder now and Mercer wails louder on guitar, but the tunes are still crammed with quirky hooks, and amid the added muscle there are some great details, like the shadowy strings on "Young Pilgrims" or the pedal steel flowing through "Gone for Good." Mercer's lyrics are always tough to crack (and his slippery phrasing doesn't help), but most of the new songs seem to be about relationships. "Saint Simon" opens with the unwieldy couplet "After all these implements and texts designed by intellects / We're vexed to find evidently there's still so much that hides," but coming out of Mercer's mouth the words somehow sound utterly conversational. Aislers Set and Broadcast Oblivion open; this show is sold-out. Saturday, November 15, 6:45 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-923-2000.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Brian Tamborello.