The Stills have a sound that I prefer to call “middling.” Or maybe plodding or tip-tapping or contemplative. Something of an easy nature, in some interstate highway hideaway in which smoke-filled interiors remain steadfastly the norm. This would mean something if The Stills were a lounge act of some kind, but apparently they’re not. They’re playing big venues, they’re in sweet, possibly soon-to-be out-of-business print magazines, and people who aren’t Canadian or sad recluses are stoked on them. In short, they’re a rock band. Rock has at least one cardinal rule and, if I had to guess, it’s never leave a listener limp from the get go on record. The only exception to this rule is Mark Eitzel, mainly because he can’t help it, and The Stills are no American Music Club. The first two tracks have a strange effect on the pulse. The vocals are dull, the lyrics are simplistic and the instrumentation, while clearly having the ambition to rise from nothing into a noisy blush, is kept in an abyss. In short, it’s quite shoegaze with a mom yelling down from the kitchen to keep it to a “dull roar.”
The Stills are not without their legitimate rock moments, it only happens that those moments have come and gone. The central example is a song off of the Rememberese EP called “Killer Bees.” It’s an addictive number that came quite close to defining art-arena pop before Bloc Party got their chance. It was structured around rising tension, abyssal echo and a shattering climax that bared the chief indicators of glorious rock climaxes in that its voluminous catharsis matched its beauty and its senselessness. Logic Will Break Your Heart had smidgens of those aspects in and around the album, but it was geared ultimately towards hipsters who like rocking only in a mocking context, this was to be an outlet for dark-vibed brevity. Hence, “Still In Love,” a lobotomized mope song, was their smash single — or at least one that would garner swift recognition from those idling about in Hollister. They’re follow-up did make an effort to break the mold a bit, however slightly. Comparisons aplenty were added to their palate, including the Kinks and Neil Young, but that seriousness, the heavy humidity of dourness was nonetheless prevalent.
To their credit, The Stills are doing their damnedest to pick up where they left off getting in some solid and, at times, loud songs that arouse the blood a little more than in previous attempts. On the other hand, it’s possible they could hardly be trying at all. A problem I’ve had, especially on Logic was the forced dramatics that filled the songs. The hooks were fine enough, even moving from time to time, but then there was that sadness that would not relent. In this case that has lessened somewhat. An interesting number is “Eastern Europe,” which has the high-octane power pop that strongly resembles the Foo Fighters, but where Dave Grohl would have crafted a fist-pump anthem, The Stills wrap the song in hushed tension and little room for catharsis. Poetically the band has not lightened up in the least, it’s worse in fact. There’s a semi-theme of apocalypse in these words. If the title is any immediate indication, it’s mostly natural. Images of the earth’s violently changing surface are conjured with terse directness. There’s even mention of drowning polar bears. One could easily take such observations seriously, the challenge in that is to overcome the tea-guzzling college boy ennui delivery.
The Stills’ time in the spotlight of awesomeness seems to be behind them somewhat, which is fine as this will allow them ample time to create. They clearly have a desire to fill large spaces with their seemingly boundless echoes of riffs and sad vocals. They want to preach a gospel of some kind of violent change. Such is all well and good. There are those who are looking for exactly that, people who grow physically ill from all that irony that so flagrantly infests our culture, as irony is not something that bothers The Stills in any sense. At least their cover art is badass.