Kissing The Lipless 2) Mine's A High Horse 3) So Says I
4) Young Pilgrims 5) Saint Simon 6) Fighting In A Sack
7) Pink Bullets 8) Turn A Square 9) Gone For Good
10) Those To Come
There is no sophomore
slump here as “Chutes Too Narrow” clearly proves that James Mercer is an excellent songwriter
and talented singer. The Hawaiian born son from a military family really came
into his own on this record, departing from his style shown on “Oh, Inverted World” and developing
a more well rounded, melodic line of attack. While this album doesn’t flow
nearly as well as the band’s debut, the individual songs on “Chutes Too Narrow” are of
a higher quality. Not all of them mind you, there are still some flashes of filler,
but Mercer takes a large step in lessening the blow of these “average” tunes with his enormous growth as a lyricist
and as a vocalist. Each song has at least a few intriguing lines and the album
takes on a greater weight because of them, while Mercer voice just sounds fuller and more emotional. The whole band sounds better actually, perhaps because of the line up change (Dave Hernandez rejoined the
band for this album--apparently, it really is difficult to find musicians in New Mexico).
The record opens
with “Kissing the Lipless,” which spends its three minutes of Indie bliss going back and forth between
gentle lullaby and power pop, with Mercer’s voice leading the charge. He
manages to loll you in with saccharine at times, but then frantically sends you on your way at others. New (old) bassist Dave Hernandez shines with his high bass pouring out those “Paperback Writer”
blasts, and the rest of the band follows suit. “Mine’s Not A
High Horse” is a fast paced, pulsating track. Well…pulsating
in a geeky, Weezer, Flaming Lips, nerdy way…regardless, the tune is excellent with a brilliant keyboard hook on the
chorus, and more aggressive sound.
even begin to explain the next track. “So Says I” just rulz; hard-edged pop-rock with a killer
guitar fill. Somehow though, during the middle eight, the band throws in a little
happy, beach melody that shouldn’t work, but slows done the track just long enough to make the ending rock that much
better. This is just a well-structured, catchy, fun, perfect song, and Mercer
sings it better than any track they have yet recorded. “Young Pilgrims”
follows and is a mellow, acoustic stroll with an attractive melody and inviting instrumentation. It is a seemingly simple, but completely catchy song, and Mercer’s newfound lyrical twists help push
it along and keep you interested throughout. The most beautiful track on the
album, and the band’s best song to date, “Saint Simon,” is most reminiscent of the sound heard
on “Oh, Inverted World,” but it makes even the best tracks there pale in comparison. The tune is melodic, unusual, charming and when Mercer sings his “La-la-las” with the violin
background, it is stunning.
In a Sack” comes out of nowhere and ruins the high of “Saint Simon.” It is an old school, 50s inspired rocking song that is a lot of fun, with a great harmonica solo and goodtime
feel, but just sits so out of place on the record. It isn’t a bad song
by any means, but it shouldn’t be located at this spot on the album. “Pink
Bullets” is a very good song, similar to “Young Pilgrims” being a bouncy, bleak, mid-tempo,
twangy acoustic confessional. Again, Mercer’s lyrics shine, along with
his desperate harmonica fills. The forgettable, “Turn A Square”
is another out of place romp. It isn’t just sequenced wrong though…this
song is just bad and shouldn’t have made the cut at all. It is easily the
least focused, and just flat out worst song of their short career.
A country song in tone and
lyrics, “Gone For Good,” follows and features guest steel pedalist Kevin Suggs. This song took a while to click with me, but it as catchy and heartfelt as anything on the album.
The chorus is impossible not to sing along with and it has that agreeable Jayhawks, country-pop sound, that when it works
(like on this track) is just pure charming. “Those To Come” closes
out the album in sheer splendor. Mercer’s delicate guitar and restrained
vocals gently melt into the melody, combining to form the band’s most tearjerking number. Everything about this song is gorgeous, and it reminds me of a little more hopeful sounding “Street
Spirit” by Radiohead.
“Chutes Too Narrow”
ups the stakes. It doesn’t have the cohesiveness of the debut, but it betters
that effort in every other manner (including the pop-up cover). Now the pressure
is really on. James Mercer has proven that he not only can write innovative melodies
in a variety of styles, but he has shown that he has the lyrical bite to develop into a real find. This is sink or swim time…and I cannot wait to hear the band’s next offering. Are they going to take the Radiohead route or become the next Violent Femmes?