Saturday, April 17, 2010

Catching Up: The Shins / Broken Bells

I always chuckle when I get asked how I can keep up with all that music. I chuckle because I know that the reality is that I don’t , can’t and that there are a whole lot of folks who listen to and know a whole bunch more about music than me (actually most of my closest friends all fall in that category). As evidence of that, back when all the best of the decade lists were coming out, I noted how much of Paste’s Best of the Decade List I didn’t have/know and what I might pursue based on that (and got some collective on-line eye rolls from a few of said friends).

So I am going to try to pull off a few quick posts on bands that I have been listening to in an effort to begin catching up with the music of the oughts. No in-depth reviews, just some quick thoughts and then (the real point of these posts) questions about where to go next with each band as in the missing essentials posts I had once initiated at The Room and then didn’t follow thorough on.

First up, is The Shins (see—I am so not on top of things). From Paste’s list came Chutes to Narrow released way back in 2003 which unfortunately for me means that it was around for seven years before I heard it. This is an absolutely great pop album that has so much going on both musically and lyrically. As Pitchfork noted in their review:

Not simply an excellent album, Chutes Too Narrow is also a powerful testament to pop music's capacity for depth, beauty and expressiveness.

For me, the key thing is that you could strip this album down and the songs would make for a great acoustic guitar, singer-songwriter album (most evidenced in their slow songs like “Pink Bullets”) , but then you add in all kinds of wonderful rock-pop production and you get an album with range of sound that is infectious.

So the question was which direction to head in pursuing more James Mercer and Shins music. The obvious answer was probably to go back to their debut album, but it just so happened that there was all this talk about the new Mercer/Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) project, Broken Bells, and it sounded interesting--so that ended up where I went next.

It is a perfectly fine album and there are some songs on it that I quite like, but overall it was a bit of a disappointment. Perhaps I really was just seeking a Shins album or something a bit more cutting edge. The songs here benefit from very talented folks both musically and in terms of production, but I doubt you will see this album on anyone’s best of a decade list. As Pop Matters notes:

Broken Bells may not supersede either Mercer’s or Burton’s respective main gigs, but as a side project that felt implausible to hit as markedly as it has in the first place, it’s a minor victory for both parties involved.

So I believe the next stop for me--and there will be one--will be to step back to the Shins’ debut album Oh, Inverted World!


And while you contemplate that, here are a couple from Chutes (from the rockin to the mellow) and the opening track from Broken Bells which in many ways is the highlight.

So Says I (Buy Chutes to Narrow)
Pink Bullets

The High Road (Buy Broken Bells)

1 comment:

  1. I find the Shins completely and compulsively listenable. At this point in my life, I just want something new for my ears so I don't stop being able to enjoy what's coming up. I almost never judge, and when I do, my main critique is usually this: "I hate that guy's voice. It sounds scream-y." Seriously. A lack of critical judgment is kind of a good thing, in my book, for me. But I am very grateful that others take the time to articulate--even a little--about what's good and why.

    All this is to say: go ahead and listen to some more Shins. Which you already knew.