Shins Chutes Too Narrow
It’s been over ten years since Garden State “changed lives” by introducing its viewers to the Shins. But by 2004, college radio was already three years deep into its relationship with the band. Even in 2001, when the Shins debut album Oh! Inverted World made it to No. 7 (July 3, 2001) on the CMJ charts, the band hadn’t just appeared out of nowhere. Initially forming in 1996 as a side project for Flake Music, the Shins toured with Modest Mouse and released a couple of singles before being picked up by Sub Pop.

Since the release of Oh! Inverted World, the Shins have been a defining force in turn-of-the-century indie-rock and have achieved much success on college radio as well as more mainstream outlets. James Mercer’s formidable songwriting ability and pop sensibilities launched them down a very successful career path. Chutes Too Narrow highlighted the true talent of the band by demonstrating a greater degree of complexity than their debut. On November 11, 2003, that second album made it to No. 1 on the CMJ Charts. They would close out the year at the top of the charts and maintain this position into the new year, kind of. The 2004 charts started off with Sun Kil Moon’s Ghost Of The Great Highway ending Chutes Too Narrow’s five week stint at No. 1. But the following week (January 13, 2004) the Shins would make the not-oft-achieved comeback to No. 1 for a week before Sun Kil Moon returned to the top of the charts again. The first chart of the year is typically the chart with the fewest stations reporting playlists, so this one-two switch was likely enabled by the increased number of reporters the second week of the year.

CMJ Chart For The Week Of January 13, 2004

1 2 SHINS Chutes Too Narrow Sub Pop
2 1 SUN KIL MOON Ghosts Of The Great Highway Caldo Verde
3 3 HER SPACE HOLIDAY The Young Machines Mush
4 4 ELBOW Cast Of Thousands V2
5 5 JOE STRUMMER AND THE MESCALEROS Streetcore Epitaph-Hellcat
6 12 LOT SIX Major Fables Tarantulas
7 14 AL GREEN I Can’t Stop Blue Note
8 6 RYAN ADAMS Rock N Roll Lost Highway
9 8 PAUL WESTERBERG Come Feel Me Tremble Vagrant
10 9 WHEAT Per Second, Per Second, Per Second… Every Second Columbia-Aware
11 7 DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE Transatlanticism Barsuk
12 20 STROKES Room On Fire RCA
13 10 STILLS Logic Will Break Your Heart Vice
14 31 FLAMING LIPS Ego Tripping At The Gates Of Hell [EP] Warner Bros.
15 13 DENALI The Instinct Jade Tree
17 21 KINKY Atlas Nettwerk
18 27 MINDERS The Future Is Always Perfect Future Farmer
19 11 COLDPLAY Live 2003 Capitol
20 18 BELLE AND SEBASTIAN Dear Catastrophe Waitress Sanctuary-Rough Trade

It wasn’t until months after Chutes Too Narrow‘s success on the CMJ Charts that Zach Braff and Natalie Portman’s flirtations in Garden State made New Slang, a single from Oh! Inverted World, a staple on any high schooler’s iPod playlist, and risked making the Shins uncool in the college radio world. Wincing The Night Away marked a shift in the Shins’ career in terms of both songwriting and the album’s overall success. But such mainstream successes, like reaching No. 2 on the Billboard charts—the highest place any Sub Pop release had made it to at the time—as well as their Grammy nomination, did not bar the Shins from garnering college radio support as well. Wincing The Night Away reached No. 1 on January 23, 2007, and held this chart-topping position for six consecutive weeks. After a five-year hiatus, the Shins returned as a completely reformed band (only Mercer remained), to release Port Of Morrow, which would once again reach No. 1 on CMJ’s charts, April 24, 2012.

Now James Mercer has returned to his origins as Flake Music and has reissued the 1997 album, When You Land Here, It’s Time To Return, which was the most added album this week. Is this reissue’s success in college radio a victory of its own merit, or is it just riding on the tailcoats of the Shins’ success?