Albuquerque, NM's the Shins began in 1997 as the side project of singer/songwriter and guitarist James Mercer's primary band Flake. Mercer formed Flake in 1992 with drummer Jesse Sandoval, bassist Marty Crandall, and guitarist Neal Langford; they eventually changed their name to Flake Music, releasing several singles, a well-received album, When You Land Here, It's Time to Return, and touring with friends like Modest Mouse and Califone. Soon after the release of When You Land Here, Mercer and Sandoval formed the Shins as a change of pace, playing as a duo with Cibo Matto and American Analog Set. With Mercer as the Shins' primary songwriter, the group developed a more focused, crafted sound than Flake Music's charming, if somewhat rambling, collaboratory style. Crandall, as well as Dave Hernandez (Scared of Chaka, Broadcast Oblivion) filled out the Shins' lineup; however, Hernandez left after almost a year, due to a personal relationship in New York. By 1999, with Flake Music officially disbanded and Hernandez away from New Mexico, Langford also joined the Shins. With a couple of 7"s on Omnibus -- 1998's Nature Bears a Vacuum and 2000's When I Goose-Step -- under their belts, the group embarked on a tour with Modest Mouse. Sub Pop's Jonathan Poneman caught the San Francisco date of the tour and asked the Shins to contribute a single to the label's Single of the Month Club, which eventually became an offer to release the Shins' 2001 single, New Slang, and their debut album, Oh, Inverted World. The group spent the rest of the year touring with acts such as Preston School of Industry and Red House Painters. The release of singles such as "Know Yr Onion!" and "The Past and Pending" kept the Shins' success going into 2002, cementing Oh, Inverted World as one of the definitive indie-rock albums of the early '00s and the Shins as one of the style's definitive bands.
Relocated from Albuquerque to Portland, OR, Mercer and Sandoval (as well as Crandall working with the band from Aluquerque) lost Langford to his true passion, professional hot air ballooning. Dave Hernandez (at this point living in Seattle) rejoined The Shins in 2003. The band began tracking new material in James's basement that summer, and producer Phil Ek (Built to Spill, Modest Mouse....) was brought in to mix the album, in an effort to balance the home-recording method used on Oh Inverted World with a studio finish. Chutes Too Narrow was released by Sub Pop that Fall. Nonstop touring of everywhere from Australia to Norway, as well as the US countless times over, has contributed to the album exceeding everyone's, including the band's, expectations.