Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Stills - Logic will break your heart and Oceans will rise

I refused to even engage with the second album from The Stills (Without Feathers) as soon as I learnt that David Hamelin, who had previously been the drummer, would be taking on vocal duties alongside Tim Fletcher, who sang for the majority of their first album 'Logic Will Break Your Heart.'  Not that I have any specific prejudice against singing drummers (ahem Phil Collins ahem) and I am very sorry to Mr Hamelin but the sublimity of 'Logic Will break your heart' was mostly secured for me because of the vocals of Mr Fletcher, which are often so beautiful I often found myself longing to have his dulcet tones drip-fed into one ear continuously (the other ear would be reserved for David Sylvian) as I am certain this would make the world a much better place to inhabit.  Anyway, I am running ahead of myself to get on to the second without talking about the first... Aside from having an inspired title, 'Logic Will Break your Heart' for me was the best example of the harnessing of an intelligent post-punk sensibility and reconfiguring it through the glossy sounds of the '00s; okay they are still dealing with the same issues as everyone else, love, death, love and death, however the heartfelt nature of Tim Fletcher's keening vocals helps to lift this collections of songs above the murky parapet of indie rock and imbue them with a fatalistic core that taps into our deepest fears of melancholy and being alone-ness (or something to that effect).  An instinctive pull towards melody pervades songs like 'Changes are no good' which contains some of my most favourite lyrics ever - 'All the world's deranged and I'm left crushed, people delayed or in a rush' - for their simplicity.  'Fevered' is sheer heartache melted and poured into the amplifier, a tiny tear clinging to the ephemeral plastic of our mass culture.

Like the Killers, the Stills kind of lost their edge on their second album although, as I admit, I have not taken the time to listen to it and find out.  I will have to wallow in my ignorance for the third attempt 'Oceans will Rise' is taking my attention at the moment and... hooray there is Tim Fletcher's voice stamped all over it and David Hamelin's voice is pleasant enough and there is plenty of melody to counteract the slight element of U2-esque bombasity that has crept in, but then 'Logic...' had such an atmosphere of resigned introspection that even the slightest cranking up of those guitars could blow away its fragile pretensions.   Saying that, I think The Stills have sacrificed some of their quirkiness for conventionality, unless they were a conventional band all along and 'Logic...' was merely an aberration.  Still, whilst some of the songs are forgettable ('Hands on Fire' is pretty bland, 'I'm with You' predictably dull) there is enough to make you hope; 'Snow in California' is a lovely song with seductive harmonies, 'Snakecharming the masses' a more low-key appeal and unusual structure; an achingly beautiful song seems to be trying to get free from 'Dinosaurs' if it wasn't for the intrusive 'rawk' guitar that stomps heavily all over the fledging attempt.  So 'Logic...' still beats the pants off 'Oceans' merely for its refusal to get too enmeshed in the need to be anthemic  - for this reason, 'Oceans' seems rather forced instead of effortless. 

Courtesy of YouTube, the sublimity of 'Changes are no good' from 'Logic will break your heart'