Cover art by Jesse LeDoux
There are some albums that leave a smile on your face -- some albums that you're able to go through from start to end, again and again, without skipping a single tune, because every note that drives the voice, guitar, bass and keyboard strikes straight into your heart like a perfect moment. While you spend year after year catching up with all the new emotions that the same piece of vinyl can give your soul, while you see the seasons of your life change for better or for worse, you realize that album has been there for you for a long decade already.
This is the case, for me, with The Shins' second amazing work: Chutes Too Narrow. A quick mental walk in the days long gone reminds me that I have progressively changed and found myself as I have grown into the woman I am today. As I have gone from being a teenage daughter to soon to be mother, Chutes Too Narrow has been a constant along with those books I've always felt the urge to bring with me wherever I moved -- and those memories I can never give up.
I can picture James Mercer's basement filled with adrenaline and excitement with the first notes of this album taking shape in the summer of 2003, just to bloom a few months later, confirming the brilliant creative effort of this band from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Having found the perfect way to embrace a whole spectrum of human feelings, from love to fear of the future, from the consciousness of our limitedness and the desire to be the best we can, The Shins were also able to narrate these emotions in 10 perfect tales of life.
The crescendo of guitars that enrich Chutes Too Narrow with enthusiasm and eagerness proved how The Shins were ready to be the big crowds' musicians they later became, never losing their freshness and signature personal style that, when this album came out, flourished in a definite way. Indeed, if a top name like Phil Ek (producer of Band Of Horses, Built To Spill and Modest Mouse, just to name a few) helped The Shins emerge from the lo-fi atmospheres that characterized their debut album Oh, Inverted World, the genuine originality of the band preserved their sound, their flair and the musical integrity that never left them, even in later works like Wincing The Night Away (2007) and the most recent Port Of Morrow (2012).
"Kissing The Lipless," the opening track of the record, is the impeccable introduction to a connubial triumph of harmonies à la Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkel, with a twist of modernity and innovative sonorities that made me think "That's what was missing in my life," the first time I heard it. The rest just flows in an empathetic, incredible attempt to transmit, through the beats, what the lyrics are meant to reveal. The energetic climax of "Fighting In A Sack" arrives right in the middle of that path that crosses the narrow chutes that make existence interesting, hard, enjoyable and worth living. The mood and the tone go slowly down whilst the album proceeds to its end, with "Those To Come."
While I'm constantly waiting for The Shins to surprise me and inspire me with another great record, I know I'm deeply in love with them because I can never resist the impulse to go back to the first and, above all, the second gem they produced. Whenever I feel like spring should be around and whenever something great is about to happen in my life, the nostalgia, the happiness and the purity of Chutes Too Narrow become just the perfect mix of sensations that shake me inside.