Chutes Too Narrow

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Chutes Too Narrow
Chutes Too Narrow.PNG
Studio album by
ReleasedOctober 21, 2003
RecordedJune–July 2003[1]
James Mercer's basement
(Portland, Oregon)
Avast! Studios
(Seattle, Washington)
GenreIndie rock, indie pop, post-punk revival
LabelSub Pop
ProducerThe Shins, Phil Ek
The Shins chronology
Oh, Inverted World
Chutes Too Narrow
Wincing the Night Away

Chutes Too Narrow is the second studio album by American rock band The Shins. Produced by Phil Ek and the band themselves, the album was released on October 21, 2003, through Sub Pop. The album title comes from a lyric in the song "Young Pilgrims". The album was very well received by critics, garnering an overall score of 88/100 on Metacritic. As of August 2008 according to Nielsen SoundScan, they have sold over 393,000 copies to date.[2]

Chutes Too Narrow features cleaner production standards than the "lo-fi" Oh, Inverted World. This is largely due to the album's being mixed by producer Phil Ek, who has also worked with Built to Spill and Modest Mouse. Chutes Too Narrow also departs from the band's keyboard-driven debut and shifts towards more emphasis on guitars.

The album also included violin parts on "Saint Simon", played by Annemarie Ruljancich, and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package. The cover art was designed by Jesse LeDoux. The songs "Gone for Good" and "Those To Come" were used in the 2004 film In Good Company. "Those to Come" was also used in the 2005 film Winter Passing.

Background and recording[edit]

In 2001, The Shins released their debut album, Oh, Inverted World. In an interview, Sebadoh guitarist (and Sub Pop labelmate) Jason Loewenstein slammed the band's "terrible, terrible music."[3] Even the Shins' hometown alt weekly turned its back on them, running a bitter editorial titled "McShins, New Corporate Suck-ass" after the Inverted song "New Slang" turned up in a McDonald's TV spot.[3]

Chutes Too Narrow was recorded in the basement of James Mercer's former home, located in a particularly rough neighborhood in Portland, Oregon.[4] Although recording in the basement was less than pleasant, the band found it "cheaper than a real studio," with Mercer noting that "it only costs sixty bucks to buy deadbolts for the doors."[5] Near the end of the recording process, the band was robbed of the computer they recorded on. "So the master files are now in some crack addict's basement," Mercer told Rolling Stone in 2003.[4] Having cut ties with a bad relationship and a bad job, Mercer felt his songwriting reflected a broader perspective as a result.[5] During the recording process, keyboardist Marty Crandall and his girlfriend, Elyse Sewell, saw a television advertisement for America's Next Top Model and joked that she should try out. Host Tyra Banks called his girlfriend a week later, and Sewell went on to win third prize on America's Next Top Model, wearing "three different Shins T-shirts" on the program.[5]

Following the record's completion, the album was mixed at Avast! Studios in Seattle and mastered at The Lodge in New York City.[1]


Rolling Stone wrote that Chutes Too Narrow is "a study in old-school pop songwriting, full of Sixties-style psychedelic folk rock, abundant pop hooks and James Mercer's inimitable high-pitched croon."[4]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Review scores
AllMusic4/5 stars[7]
Alternative Press5/5[8]
Entertainment WeeklyA−[9]
The Guardian3/5 stars[10]
Mojo5/5 stars[11]
Q4/5 stars[13]
Rolling Stone4/5 stars[14]
The Village VoiceA−[15]

Chutes Too Narrow was met with critical acclaim upon its October 2003 release. Matt LeMay of Pitchfork designated it "Best New Music," summarizing that "Not simply an excellent album, Chutes Too Narrow is also a powerful testament to pop music's capacity for depth, beauty and expressiveness."[12] AllMusic's Heather Phares wrote that the band "excel[s] at sounding happy, sad, frustrated, and vulnerable at the same time, and their best songs, whether they're fast or slow, feel like they're bursting with nervous energy."[7] The New York Times's Kelefa Sanneh called Chutes Too Narrow a "sly, restless album that includes a cryptic protest song—full of sugary harmonies and disconcerting slogans—and a dreamy meditation on ontogeny."[16] Rolling Stone gave the record four stars, with reviewer Barry Walters commenting, "It must mean something that the freshest indie rock boasts tunes more substantial than what is sold in the mainstream."[14]

Robert Christgau of The Village Voice called Mercer "a gifted melodist with an arranger's knack for psychedelicizing simple structures and a folkie's fondness for acoustic strum."[15] Q called the record "a leap forward,"[13] while Uncut wrote that "You don't expect progression from such evident classicists, but there's a new clarity, poise and refinement."[17] Mojo wrote that the album "sears through the essence of what makes this band special, the brave voice and ebullient delivery of singer-songwriter-guitarist James Mercer."[11] Spin's Zac Crain compared their style to their "fellow travelers the New Pornographers," writing that "the Shins are reverent and referential, practically documenting their source material with footnotes, while acting like they own it."[3] While Dave Simpson of The Guardian opined that "downbeat self-deprecation" permeates the recording, he wrote that "there's a certain small-town romance vibe throughout, they're not averse to surprises."[10]

Stephen Thompson of The A.V. Club felt the record a disappointment in contrast to its "near-perfect" predecessor, but did speak positively when comparing: "[Chutes Too Narrow] does share its intelligence and concision, as well as its remarkable ability to make kicky pop-rock sound both simple and complex, retro and modern."[18] In contrast, The New Yorker considered an improvement over Oh, Inverted World: "With better writing, better playing and better singing, the album illustrates the breadth of the lead singer and songwriter James Mercer's vision; the cuts […] are elevated by accessible pop hooks and literate but unpretentious lyrics."[19] Similarly, Robert Christgau felt it "faster and clearer" than the band's "paisley-fringed" debut, writing that the album "advances the Shins well beyond the dreamy indistinctness that has replaced lo-fi as Indieland's distancing strategy of choice."[20] Alternative Press wrote that the band "satisfy largely by serving up more of what made their debut so good,"[8] and Blender felt similarly: "Their second album is equally charming and more consistent."[21] Magnet felt it "a better record than the Shins' first—a sonically bolder production with fewer effects and more hooks per square inch than a flyrod factory."[22] Will Hermes of Entertainment Weekly wrote that "[the band] follow 2001's pop-a-licious Oh Inverted World with just the record you'd want: production a bit bigger […] and songs more adventurous but no less indelible."[9]


Chutes Too Narrow appeared on numerous music critics' and publications' end-of-year albums lists. Stylus Magazine placed the record at number three on their respective list,[23] while Billboard and The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop followed at number six.[24][25] Pitchfork placed the record at number seven on their year-end list, writing that "Chutes Too Narrow shattered expectations, a meticulously sequenced, stripped-down collection of indie pop gems encompassing endless Technicolor universes."[26] Mojo also placed the album at number seven on their list,[27] and Rolling Stone on an unordered list of "Best Albums of 2003".[28]

Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
The A.V. Club US The Best Music of the Decade[29] 2009 17
NME UK The Top 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade[30] 2009 75
Paste US The 50 Best Albums of the Decade (2000-2009)[31] 2009 24
Pitchfork The Top 200 Albums of the 2000s[32] 2009 46
Slant Magazine Best of the Aughts: Albums[33] 2009 91
Uncut UK 150 Greatest Albums Of The Decade[34] 2009 113

(*) designates unordered lists.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by James Mercer.[1]

1."Kissing the Lipless"3:19
2."Mine's Not a High Horse"3:20
3."So Says I"2:48
4."Young Pilgrims"2:47
5."Saint Simon"4:25
6."Fighting in a Sack"2:26
7."Pink Bullets"3:53
8."Turn a Square"3:11
9."Gone for Good"3:13
10."Those to Come"4:24



Region Certification Certified units/sales
United States (RIAA)[35] Gold 500,000double-dagger

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone


  1. ^ a b c Chutes Too Narrow (liner notes). The Shins. US: Sub Pop. 2003. SPCD 625.CS1 maint: others (link)
  2. ^ "Third Shins Album Now Due Next Year". Billboard. 8 August 2006. Retrieved 1 August 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d Crain, Zac (November 20, 2003). "The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow". Spin. New York. 19 (12): 133. ISSN 0886-3032. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c Heath, Chris (November 13, 2003). "New Faces - The Shins: Quiet Indie Rockers Date Models, Get Robbed". Rolling Stone. New York City: Wenner Media LLC (935): 22. ISSN 0035-791X.
  5. ^ a b c Eliscu, Jenny (August 21, 2003). "The Shins Make Basement Tapes". Rolling Stone. New York City: Wenner Media LLC (929): 58. ISSN 0035-791X. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  6. ^ "Reviews for Chutes Too Narrow by The Shins". Metacritic. Retrieved November 25, 2015.
  7. ^ a b Phares, Heather. "Chutes Too Narrow – The Shins". AllMusic. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  8. ^ a b "The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow". Alternative Press. Cleveland (185): 142. December 2003. ISSN 1065-1667.
  9. ^ a b Hermes, Will (October 17, 2003). "Chutes Too Narrow". Entertainment Weekly. New York (733). ISSN 1049-0434. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  10. ^ a b Simpson, Dave (March 11, 2004). "Pop CD: The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow". The Guardian. London. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  11. ^ a b "The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow". Mojo. London (125): 98. April 2004. ISSN 1351-0193.
  12. ^ a b LeMay, Matt (October 20, 2003). "The Shins: Chutes Too Narrow". Pitchfork. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  13. ^ a b "The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow". Q. London (213): 120. April 2004. ISSN 0955-4955.
  14. ^ a b Walters, Barry (November 13, 2003). "Chutes Too Narrow". Rolling Stone. New York (935): 94. ISSN 0035-791X. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  15. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (January 13, 2004). "Consumer Guide: MLK Fever". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved November 25, 2015.
  16. ^ Sanneh, Kelefa (January 16, 2004). "Pop and Jazz Guide". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  17. ^ "The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow". Uncut. London (83): 107. April 2004. ISSN 1368-0722.
  18. ^ Thompson, Stephen (October 21, 2003). "The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow". The A.V. Club. Chicago. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  19. ^ Sanneh, Kelefa (January 5, 2004). "A Dozen Favorite CDs from 2003, Listed Alphabetically, And Another Dozen That Merit Mention". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  20. ^ Christgau, Robert (December 9, 2003). "An Alternative Universe". The Village Voice. New York. ISSN 0042-6180. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  21. ^ Jenkins, Mark (November 2003). "The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow". Blender. New York (21): 120. Archived from the original on April 19, 2004. Retrieved April 11, 2019.
  22. ^ "The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow". Magnet. Philadelphia (61): 109. November 2003. ISSN 1088-7806.
  23. ^ Reid, Scott (December 31, 2003). "Stylus Magazine's Favorite Albums of 2003". Stylus Magazine. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  24. ^ "Albums of the Year". Billboard. December 2004. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  25. ^ Christgau, Robert. "The 2003 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  26. ^ "Staff Lists: Top 50 Albums of 2003". Pitchfork. December 31, 2003. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  27. ^ "Recordings Of The Year 2004". Mojo. London. December 2004. ISSN 1351-0193.
  28. ^ "50 Best Albums of 2003". Rolling Stone. New York City: Wenner Media LLC (938/939): 110. December 25, 2003. ISSN 0035-791X.
  29. ^ Murray, Noel (November 19, 2009). "The Best Music of the Decade". The A.V. Club. Chicago: The Onion, Inc. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  30. ^ "The Top 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade". NME. November 18, 2009. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  31. ^ Maddux, Rachael (November 2, 2009). "The Best Music of the Decade". Paste. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  32. ^ Powell, Mike (October 1, 2009). "Staff Lists: The Top 200 Albums of the 2000s". Pitchfork. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  33. ^ "Best of the Aughts: Albums". Slant Magazine. February 1, 2010. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  34. ^ "Uncut's 150 Albums of the Decade!". Uncut. London. December 2009. ISSN 1368-0722. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  35. ^ "American album certifications – The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow". Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH. 

External links[edit]