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MUSIC

Shins' pop psychs a young crowd

June 07, 2004|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

The Shins make the kind of neatly manicured, slightly twisty power-pop that has for years appealed primarily to aging fans who pine for the '80s heyday of XTC and Squeeze. So what were all those college-age kids who wouldn't know an XTC song if it bit them on their iPods doing at the band's packed Wiltern LG show on Friday?

Dancing and singing along to this unlikely rising-star quartet, that's what. Perhaps maturing youngsters leaving teen-pop behind are embracing the literate leanings of this Portland-based band and Fountains of Wayne. Or perhaps it's a full pop paradigm shift in progress. Hard to say, but something's happening -- the Shins' second album, "Chutes Too Narrow," has sold a strong 170,000 in the U.S.

It was an encouraging sight, even if the Shins' enticing music paled compared to the inventive rush of second-billed band the Fiery Furnaces and the dynamic opening set by Rogue Wave.

Songs by somber Shins singer-guitarist James Mercer on Friday were textbook examples of the form, with pleasing surprises in the blind corners his melodies sometimes negotiate. The nostalgia is ultimately more prominent in the inward-looking lyrics than in any backward-looking musical orientation.

Still, for those well-versed in the genre, it was impossible not to note the exposed roots Friday that included not just XTC, but "Muswell Hillbillies"-era Kinks, the Hollies, Sparks and even Simon & Garfunkel.

If the Shins stick too closely to a blueprint, the Fiery Furnaces, a Brooklyn quartet anchored by siblings Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger, takes its blueprint, cuts it up, rearranges it haphazardly and uses crayons to color in spots where they've lost the pieces. Friday's ever-shifting suite sounded like a meeting of P.J. Harvey's steely art-blues drama and Ween's man-child follies but translated into the Friedbergers' private musical and emotional language -- a language worth learning.

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