A couple things became clear to me rather quickly when reviewing the tracklist on Music by Numbers. First of all, I must have put this together around 2000 or 2001, which means I was living in Boston and was in the early days of making mixes on my roommate’s computer. Second, I wasn’t downloading music, and was still adding to my already immense collection of CDs via regular visits to this little shop in Davis Square where I formed a friendship with one of the employees, meaning I’d always walk out without him charging me for at least one of my CDs. And finally, I was in no way obeying my now rule of one appearance by a band per CD, as these things are littered with Built to Spill and The Shins (three songs each, which is particularly odd since the Built to Spill record in question, Ancient Melodies of the Future, is not all that good, despite Pitchfork’s review).
Sure, I’m pleased to see entries from The New Pornographers’ Mass Romantic, Do Make Say Think’s Goodbye Enemy Airship, The Landlord is Dead, and Badly Drawn Boy’s The Hour of Bewilderbeast. That said, I can now do without “Crab,” “As You Are,” and even The Shins’ “New Slang,” which Zach Braff and Natalie Portman murdered in Garden State.
Here’s the thing about The Shins: they put out one-and-a-half great records. Since then, all downhill. Oh, Inverted World is a fantastic record, as is the first half of Chutes Too Narrow. But, see, something happens after track 5, “Saint Simon,” which is this: The Shins go on to suck. The second half of that record is outright boring, and since then they’ve never managed to recapture what it was that set them apart from other bands. Call it melody, call it harmony, call it points of differentiation. Whatever it was, it vanished faster than Keyser Soze at the end of The Usual Suspects. (And by the way, don’t even get me started on that movie, unless you want to feel my wrath.)
It’s a shame, really, because I so rooted for The Shins to be great. I mean, they certainly gained popularity and even managed to maintain it, but at what cost greatness? I can’t think of them as anything other than boring nowadays. I was first introduced to The Shins before they were The Shins. Back when I was doing my undergrad at The College of Santa Fe in New Mexico, some pals and I drove to Albuquerque to see a show at The Dingo Bar (which closed shortly thereafter). Headlining that night was Built to Spill with opening band Flake Music (at that time going by Flake), followed by Modest Mouse. This was back in 1997, mind you, so it was much, much cooler than it might sound. I was there to see Modest Mouse and Built to Spill, and was fortunate enough to catch show-opener Flake, who you now know as The Shins. They were fantastic, incidentally, and even put out a stellar, albeit vocally-inaudible record When You Land Here, It’s Time to Return (which, by the way, was reissued).
If that wasn’t enough, I started frequenting Bow Wow Records in Albuquerque (which also apparently closed 7 years ago) where, to my surprise, Marty “I Beat Up America’s Next Top Model” Crandall was working the register. (The girl in question, for the record, with Marty.) I wouldn’t say we became friends, but we always talked for a while whenever we’d run into each other. Over the years I saw The Shins a few times. In fact, I caught them at The Middle East in Cambridge, Massachusetts one evening, and after the show asked Marty if he remembered me. To my astonishment, he knew exactly who I was, and said he’d been looking at me during the show trying to place me. Marty hadn’t gone on to have the whole “incident” at this point, which was really a shame considering what a swell guy he’d always been to me. I blame Tyra.
Music by Numbers cover.
Music by Numbers inside art.
Music by Numbers (Vol. 1):
1. Do Make Say Think – “When Day Chokes the Night”
2. Built to Spill – “Happiness”
3. Mink Lungs – “Think of Me”
4. Mazarin – “My Favorite Green Hill”
5. The Shins – “Know Your Onion!”
6. Stereolab – “Captain Easychord”
7. Spoon – “The Fitted Shirt”
8. Weezer – “Crab”
9. Arlo – “So Long”
10. Rocket From the Crypt – “Carne Voodoo”
11. The New Pornographers – “Mystery Hours”
12. Superchunk – “Good Dreams”
13. Mates of State – “Tan/Black”
14. The Starlight Mints – “Submarine #3”
15. Silkworm – “Treat the New Guy Right”
16. The Minders – “I’ve Been Wondering”
17. Built to Spill – “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss”
18. Swearing at Motorists – “Drunk On Monday”
Music by Numbers (Vol. 2):
1. Mogwai – “2 Rights Make 1 Wrong”
2. The Shins – “New Slang”
3. Mazarin – “A Tall Tale Storyline”
4. Giant Sand – “Shiver”
5. For Stars – “Wires”
6. Clem Snide – “Chinese Baby”
7. Badly Drawn Boy – “Stone On the Water”
8. Travis – “As You Are”
9. The Lesser Birds of Paradise – “When You’re A Pretty Girl”
10. Modest Mouse – “It Always Rains On a Picnic”
11. The Shins – “Weird Divide”
12. Varnaline – “Still Dream”
13. Built to Spill – “The Weather”
14. Radiohead – “Like Spinning Plates”
15. Clem Snide – “No One’s More Happy Than You”
That’ll do it for this installment. Until next time, have at it, you vultures!