The Shins

The Shins are another bunch of ordinary guys making extraordinary sounds. Since their debut album two years ago, 2001's brilliant Oh, Inverted World, they've relocated from their hometown of Albuquerque to the Meltzerian environs of Portland, Oregon. Judging by this new album, they are none the worse because of it. Where Inverted was subdued, although never lightweight, Chutes aims even higher with a more evangelistic clarity. The songs -- most writ by head Shin James Mercer -- are full of forlorn sentiments and wistful regrets. In its own way, Chutes Too Narrow rates with such other oddly idiosyncratic treasures as Big Star's Third, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, and Van Morrison's Astral Weeks.

Pretty big shoes to fill, but the Shins never falter, always putting their best feet forward. A good example is the use of synthesizer on "Mine's Not a High Horse" that gives the song a hovering feel; it floats translucently above the twangy guitars and the gentle pitter-patter of drums. A power chord opens the desperate-sounding "So Says I," but the Shins rely very little on heaviness, preferring skeletal orchestrations to make grandiose statements. That doesn't mean they don't possess a genuine rock dynamic -- "Turn a Square" is a bona fide rocker of early Who/Small Faces proportions. Once again, log-rolling rhythms -- think Fleetwood Mac's "Monday Morning" -- are evident.

As on the band's first album, there's a lilting country vibe epitomized by "Gone for Good," a weepy midtempo opus. Mercer has an odd voice, a keening falsetto that sometimes ("Kissing the Lipless") evokes notes that only dogs can hear. It can be outright ginchy at times, although at his best, he possesses the plaintive reflection of Ray Davies at his most pastoral. These unassuming country squires probably wish to preserve china cups and virginity too.

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