October 21 – Shins Legged Their Way To Popularity

Say “Sub Pop” and one usually thinks right away of Nirvana. But there’s a whole lot more to the respected Seattle indie label than the origins of the Mythology of Kurt, and while not many of their other acts went on to become mega-selling stars, they’ve had a good run of promoting highly-respected (and less self-destructive) bands through the decades, including Band of Horses, Flaming Lips and the Shins. Speaking of whom, they put out their second, critically-acclaimed album, Chute’s Too Narrow this day in 2003.

The Shins are a Portland-based project that is essentially James Mercer and whatever friends happen to be around at the time. An introspective singer/songwriter and guitarist he says he went into music because “it got me out of my shell and gave me a social life.” He formed them while he was in a band called Flake, in Alburquerque, but relocated to be closer to the “scene” when he got a chance to tour with Modest Mouse, which in turn got them signed to Subpop.

Their debut, Oh Inverted World, won them good reviews which continued to grow, with their reputation for this one. This time around The Shins were a quartet, with Mercer helped out by drummer James Sandoval, bassist Dave Hernandez and keyboardist Marty Crandall, who’s role was slightly lessened as they shifted towards a slightly more jangly guitar-based sound which at its best sounded vaguely like a less morose Smiths.

He wrote and recorded the ten snappy songs (only two run past four minutes) in his basement in a run-down neighborhood of Portland. Still, a young band with moderate sales had to economize and he said since the equipment was there, why bother renting a studio? “It only cost $60 to buy deadbolts for the doors,” he noted. They did get it finished up and mixed in a Seattle studio mind you.

Critics sat up and took notice with the release, despite them lacking a real “hit” thus far. Rolling Stone gave it 4-stars, noting it was “more substantial than what is sold in the mainstream” and was a record of “old-school pop songwriting, full of ’60s-style psych-folk music.” Entertainment Weekly gave it an “A-”, comparing them to “conservatory dropouts raised on Beach Boys.” Blender thought it “equally charming and more consistent” than the first one. Later, allmusic graded it 4-stars, suggesting “they excel at sounding happy, sad, frustrated and vulnerable at the same time… bursting with nervous energy.” they singled out the “under-stated…winding ‘Young Pilgrims‘ “ and the first single, “the bouncy but brooding ‘So Says I’” as highlights.

If mainstream radio largely ignored The Shins, their fans in the entertainment world didn’t. The album got boosts from TV and movies – “Those to Come” appeared in both the Scarlett Johannson romcom In Good Company and the Will Ferrell flick Winter Passing, they got to perform “So Says I” live in an episode of Gilmore Girls and proving that there are certain “perks” to being an indie rock star, Crandall’s girlfriend wore The Shins t-shirts three times on the show she was on – America’s Next Top Model.

For all that, the record was only a modest success. Singles “So Says I” and “Fighting in a Sack” did OK on college radio but barely made the regular charts and the album stalled in the 80s on both American and British charts. However, eventually it would go gold at home and pave the way for their follow-up, Wincing the Night Away to be a top 10 hit in the U.S. and Canada.


11 thoughts on “October 21 – Shins Legged Their Way To Popularity

    1. it’s quite a good title isn’t it? No idea what ‘Chutes Too Narrow’ means or comes from. I like a fair percentage of what I have heard by them, which is an admittedly small sample.


  1. Badfinger (Max)

    I like their songs…I have run across them in the past. I really like the So Says I video with the penguins. That is a sign of a good album….to go gold without a hit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a cool video- sometimes when I’m putting the links in, I just run about 5 seconds of the video to make sure it’s the right one, unless it’s one I know & want to see anyway, but this one made me stop and watch it through! I worked with a gal in the early-2000s who loved alt rock but was about 10 years younger than me. She made a CD of newmusic for me, and I know there were a couple of Shins songs on it that I liked,but I can’t remember what they were. They and the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club were the only 2 acts on there that I can now remember making an impression on me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know, it’s kind of thought-provoking though I’m not sure I totally have the message from it yet…gonna watch it again! My sweetie loves that ‘gilmore Girls’ show (I admit, it’s ok but she watches reruns a LOT) and they perform almost all of that song in concert (that Rory the daughter went to), and first three four times I saw it, I was always thinking ‘not bad – who IS that?’. Evntually I looked it up and listened to a few more tunes of theirs.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Badfinger (Max)

        Hey that is cool you found it from that…that means other people did as well.
        I’m not sure what the message is either…I thought Soviet Union first thing.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. yeah, placement in even moderately popular shows can definitely help the lesser-known acts. I guess the video has something to do with communism and standing up for your human rights, (or penguin rights) but I haven’t quite pieced it together!

        Liked by 1 person

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