Before James Mercer broke through as lead singer of The Shins, he spent a good chunk of the '90s in a like-minded New Mexico band called Flake Music. The group only managed one full-length album in its five-year existence — 1997's When You Land Here, It's Time to Return — before giving way to the band that made Mercer famous.
Most of Mercer's fans won't have spent much time with Flake Music, but its newly remastered, remixed and reissued album is an essential document for those who love The Shins' early sound. All the key ingredients are swirling within a style that's still cohering: Alternately jagged and jangly, many of these songs have a Shins-y way of stitching together disparate fragments in disarming and exciting ways. Take "Blast Valve," which moves through several distinct phases — including a long instrumental interlude plopped right in the middle — during the span of just three frequently exhilarating minutes.
As on The Shins' Oh! Inverted World, which would follow four years later, When You Land Here has a way of soaring in concise and contained ways, with playfulness that's never cloying. In Flake Music, Mercer and his collaborators only fully land on what would become The Shins' sound in "Spanway Hits," "Mieke" and the tellingly titled "The Shins." Elsewhere, other apparent influences inform Flake Music's approach — a little Archers of Loaf here, a little Bob Mould there — as the band shuffles through new ideas constantly. It's to Mercer's credit that he soon figured out just how and when to lock on to the ones that worked best.
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