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Soundbite

Our critics' picks in new releases

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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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