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The Stills “Without Feathers” (Album Review)

The Stills’ 2004 debut “Logic Will Break Your Heart” was a pretty muted affair, with most pigeonholing it as an album Echo and The Bunnymen never released or, at best, lazy re-hashes of songs by The Smiths or Joy Division. Some refused to see them as nothing more than The Walkmen or Interpol tribute bands (The Stills even toured with the latter band in 2004), or a Poor Mans U2. Although “Logic…” had its fair share of lovely moments (“Animals and Insects” for example), it also left the listener with an overall feeling of anti-climax: a sense of it-was-getting-good-but-just-didn’t-tick-all-the-right-boxes. Reviews were fairly dismissive (Pitchfork gave it a 5.1 and a resounding MUST TRY HARDER: SEE ME AFTER CLASS), but The Stills have kept their heads down for the past 2 years in an attempt to show what they can do. And it is, for the most part, a great success.

The catchy boom-chikka guitar and tinkling piano line combination on album-opener “In The Beginning”, as well as the slow drawl of the refrain (‘It’s nice to see you’re moving on / I know it’s hard to carry on’) clearly shows a more determined group mindset this time – they’re back and can take the criticism. The fact that this album is a great improvement means that there won’t be too much aimed at them. The beautifully warm and bouncy guitar/piano combo of the opening track travels through the rest of the album, especially on standout track “It Takes Time”. The slow yet assured “She’s Walking Out” could have sounded like an overblown Embrace flag-waver but, through an understated chorus, the album steers clear of such pompous chest-beating production.

Most surprising is the Arcade Fire sound-a-like “Helicopters”, with its percussion and angular sound effects giving it a refreshingly jaunty vibe. The female background vocals on “Baby Blues” ground lyrics which would sound laughable otherwise: ‘But just like the sixties / We won’t get very far’ anyone?! The 12 tracks on “Without Feathers” are bright and breezy enough, with only a single track passing the 5-minute mark. By keeping the album short and immediate, The Stills now have an immensely enjoyable record under their belt, encapsulating the Californian sun and surf tinge of The Shins. (By J. M. Ross.)