Shins and Broken Bells

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )

When You Land Here (1999),
Oh Inverted World (2001) , 5/10
Chutes Too Narrow (2003), 6/10
Wincing The Night Away (2007), 5.5/10
Port of Morrow (2012), 4.5/10
Broken Bells: Broken Bells (2010), 5/10
Broken Bells: After the Disco (2014), 4/10

The Flake, fronted by James Mercer, were playing pure pop in Albuquerque (New Mexico) when the Brit-pop stars were enjoying world headlines. But the Flakes were playing real pop, not the adulterated version offered by the Oasis. The single Mieke (Resin, 1993), the EP Spork (Science Project, 1995) and the album Flake Music (Cargo, 1997) are their personal tribute to Brian Wilson. The EP Nature Bears A Vacuum (Omnibus, 1998), the album When You Land Here (Omnibus, 1999) and the single When I Goose Step (Omnibus, 2000) refined the new concept.

The Shins were born out of the ashes of the Flake. The only problem with Oh Inverted World (Subpop, 2001) is that the pop is too poppy. There isn't a single note in the first eight songs that one could define "original", "inventive", "bold". This are third-rate melodies. No doubt the Beatles would have salivated for New Slang, and the Beach Boys would be proud of Girl Inform Me but substance this is not. Caring Is Creepy stands out as less predictable than the average. One by One All Day sounds like an attemp to imitate the Byrds, circa 1966.

The album was followed by the singles Know Yr Onion and The Past and the Pending.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Carlo Crudele)

I Flake suonavano pop puro ad Albuquerque (Nuovo Messico) quando le stelle del brit-pop si godevano i titoli dei giornali di tutto il mondo. Ma i Flake suonavano pop vero, non la versione ADULTERATED offerta dagli Oasis. Il singolo Mieke (Resin, 1993), l'EP Spork (Science Project, 1995) e l'album Flake Music (Cargo, 1997) sono il loro omaggio personale a Brian Wilson.

Gli Shins sono nati sulle ceneri dei Flake. L'EP Nature Bears A Vacuum (Omnibus, 1998), l'album Wjen You Land Here (Omnibus, 1998) ed il singolo When I Goose Step (Omnibus, 2000) hanno raffinato l'idea di base.

Il solo problema di Oh Inverted World (Subpop, 2001) e` che il pop e` troppo pop. Non c'e` una sola nota nelle prime otto canzoni che potrebbe essere definita "originale", "creativa", "strana". Queste sono melodie di terza mano. Nessun dubbio sul fatto che i Beatles avrebbero sbavato su New Slang, ne` che i Beach Boys sarebbero orgogliosi di Girl Inform Me, ma qui non c'e` sostanza.

Shins' Chutes Too Narrow (Subpop, 2003) is a vast improvement over the debut. It boasts simple but inventive arrangements, even occasionally avantgarde (Kissing the Lipless, with off-kilter guitar riff and screaming vocals), and a stronger echo of psychedelic-era Byrds. Highlights include the dreamy Mine's Not A High Horse, perhaps the most atmospheric song on the album, the breezy So Says I, the lyrical and neoclassical Saint Simon, the gently teasing Turn a Square, and the rocking Fighting In A Sack. (Translation by/ Tradotto da Paolo Latini)

Il mini album Chutes Too Narrow (Subpop, 2003) è un perfezionamento del loro debutto. Presenta arrangiamenti semplcii ma inventivi, avanguardia occasionale (Kissing the Lipless, con voci lancinanti e riff off-kilter), e una più forte eco di psichedelia di matrice Byrds. Tra i pezzi migliori ci sono la sognante Mine's Not A High Horse, probabilmente la cazone più atmosferica dell'album, la fresca So Says I, la lirica e neoclassica Saint Simon, e il rock di Fighting In A Sack.

Launched in stardom stratosphere by the soundtrack to the Hollywood blockbuster "Garden State", the Shins took four years to make their third album, Wincing The Night Away (Sub Pop, 2007), that debuted at number one on Billboard's charts. Nonetheless the quality of the music was still mediocre, with a handful of pop tunes (Sleeping Lessons, Phantom Limb, Black Wave) still charting a well trodden territory, and only Sea Legs showing production ambition.

James Mercer joined forces with hip-hop producer Danger Mouse of Gnarls Barkley to create Broken Bells (Columbia, 2010), a tour de force of musical stereotypes of the past. Unfortunately, only the first three songs are worth listening to: the rousing singalong The High Road, sung at a solemn Band-like pace, Vaporize, which exudes Sixties-style electric organ exuberance, and the bubblegum and pre-beat pop ditty Your Head Is On Fire. This should have been an EP. Its follow-up, After the Disco (2014), is another blatant plariazing effort, borrowing the idea of Perfect World from synth-pop of the 1980s, the flavor of After The Disco (and of the lame single Holding On For Life) from the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever, the melody of Control from the Eagles' Hotel California the choral singalong of No Matter What You're Told from David Bowie's All The Young Dudes, etc. Broken Bells had simply progressed from the 1960s to the 1970s. For a modicum of originality, try instead the plantation lament Leave It Alone and the soul lullaby The Angel And The Fool.

Lush arrangements and a retro fixation permeate Port of Morrow (Aural Apothecary, 2012) by the increasingly Mercer-centric Shins, but the number of significant songs per album was rapidly declining. The leading single Simple Song is a random blend of pop stereotypes. The idea behind several songs (like the Caribbean-tinged Bait and Switch) is embarrassingly trivial. The Shins move into adult lounge pop with the spare country-ish serenade September and the mellow syncopated ballad 40 Mark Strasse. Few albums sounded more boring in 2012.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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