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The Shins

Welcome to Shins 101. This basic course serves as a primer on all things Shins. Those of you who have any advance knowledge of the Shins from previous classes like "Important Indie Bands of our Time" or "Bands that Really Blew Up in 2003" should consider enrolling concurrently in Advanced Shins Studies. I will provide an overview later in the review.

Now for a brief introduction. The Shins are good. Great even. They play melodic '60s guitar pop, creating snappy songs that are impossibly beautiful and catchy, yet remain genuinely emotional and not overly bubblegum. Each tune literally swirls itself around an intricate musical structure and surprises you at every turn. The Shins are sometimes thought of as a modern-day Beach Boys, paying homage to Pet Sounds-era Brian Wilson with a shimmering ambience that warms your very soul.

A word of warning: each of you should think carefully before taking this class. The Shins are highly addictive and you will not find it humanely possible to remove their CD from your stereo once it has entered. Studies have shown this may directly correlate to lead singer James Mercer. He takes his own uniquely inventive lyrics and makes each song a vocal playground, with soaring sing-along choruses and an impressive range sung in the key of harmonious pop.

Now for a quick history of the band. They originally formed in Albuquerque, NM, but have adopted Portland as their home. At present, there are four total Shins -- Mercer on vocals and guitar, Jessie Sandoval on drums, Marty Crandall on keyboards and Dave Hernandez on bass. Their first album Oh, Inverted World was released on Sub Pop in 2001 and sent the indie world into a tizzy with a few successful singles and lots of critical acclaim. But in late 2003, things got unexpectedly huge for the boys. Despite a degree of previous popularity in some circles, it was impossible to predict the lengths to which people fell in love with the Shins after the October release of Chutes too Narrow - and deservedly so. The album comes darn close to perfection, with 10 superbly arranged pop masterpieces and a slight twinge of country twang. The piece-de-resistance is "Saint Simon", a pretty, witty piece of ear candy which features a stunning use of the time-honored "la la la la" chorus throughout.

On the acoustic "Young Pilgrims", Mercer sings: "Of course I was raised to gather courage from those/lofty tails so trite and true but/if you're able I suggest it/cause this modern thought can get the best of you." Thinking about his band's newfound fame could do the very same thing. Everyone's favorite little indie secret is now on loan to the rest of the world, and it's been quite the whirlwind tour. Chutes too Narrow made everyone's year-end best-of list, including mainstream magnets like Entertainment Weekly. The Shins recently played Letterman. The band has been on MTV and Live 105. Your little sister knows the words to "So Says I" and, perhaps most tellingly, the Shins sold out The Fillmore right quick just a few months after opening for Modest Mouse there. Backlash may indeed be inevitable with all the media hype surrounding the band, but so far we don't appear to be anywhere near the saturation point. If they keep making music this good, the Shins can only get bigger.

If you're interested in further Shins studies, lectures in the advanced course will feature topics such as "Origins of the Shins: The Evolution of a Small Band Named Flake Music", "Why Marty Crandall Fronts the Mic at Shows Instead of James Mercer" and "Modern Musical Mysteries: Reading for Meaning in Shins Lyrics".