Chutes Too Narrow
The Shins' sophomore effort, Chutes Too Narrow, has an air of mediocrity about it that definitely wears off the more you listen to it. But aside from the intriguing subtext behind songs like "Mine's Not A High Horse" (The Shins sold several songs over the past few years, including one that appeared in a McDonald's commercial, making them the whipping boys for endless indie cred-checkers), the album's competence and occasional catchiness never translates into any kind of sonic greatness. Still, lead singer/songwriter James Mercer can whip off some wicked lyrics. "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 so, says I, WE ARE A BRUTAL KIND," he howls in his delightfully whiny voice toward the never-ending war, metaphorical and real, that's always about us. "Young Pilgrims" has the most bubbly hooks, and is most reminiscent of their lovely Oh, Inverted World. Friends have tried to convince me that just one more listen will make me a convert, but I'm still swooning over Mr. JT, Andre 3000 and Pharrell Williams and can't be bothered.
monokini and Oh Ah (reissues)
Kill Rock Stars
About four years ago I found Stereo Total's (pronounced Toe-Tall) monokini on a friend's record shelf. Aside from the more-than-compelling image of singer and musician Franoise Cactus sitting naked on a bear skin rug in a park, I was drawn to the exotic and trashy looking titles in German and French -- "Lunatique," "Grand Prix Eurovision," "Ex Fan Des Sixties." When I took it for a spin on the CD player, I quickly decided I'd happened upon one of the most perfectly pop bands ever. Greater than Stereolab by a miracle mile, it was '90s Euro-music undamaged by endless play on KRCC. Stomping on every pop sound from new wave to house and tres cabaret, Stereo Total knows how to drive a riff out of rock, pump your ass full of dance and keep you hanging on every word you don't understand. Originally released in Europe and Japan, monokini and their almost-as-great first album, Oh Ah, are now out on Kill Rock Stars along with the wonderful Musique Automatique as a complete back catalog trilogy.
-- Noel Black