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Our critics' picks in new releases


The Shins' music quietly creeps into your consciousness on strummed acoustic guitars and James Mercer's subliminal lyrics, then lodges itself there for good. The band--which started out in Albuquerque, and is now based in Portland, Oregon--has similarly crept onto the national scene through licensing tunes to commercials, model-girlfriends wearing their t-shirts, and most of all, through catchy, haunting songs such as 2001's "New Slang," with its sad, spooky, hummed falsetto melody. Chutes Too Narrow faces the dangers of any follow-up record: will it be as good as the fabulous Oh, Inverted World, but will it also be new and surprising, not just a retread? Fortunately, the new album is stuffed with goodness: folksy anthems from the gut, such as "Young Pilgrims" ("This rather simple epitaph can save your hide, your falling mind/ Fate isn't what we're up against/ There's no design, no flaws to find"), and rockers that pulsate with intellect, such as "So Says I" ("We've got rules and maps and guns in our backs/ But we still can't just behave ourselves/ Even if to save our own lives"). The secret weapon for the Shins is the interplay between Mercer's voice, a high warble that can leap all over the register, and his guitar, which responds with little licks and hooks that catch and hold you and reel you in.

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