The Stills: Oceans Will Rise

By their third album, the Stills are sounding more mature, but more mainstream too.

The Stills

Oceans Will Rise

Label: Arts & Crafts
US Release Date: 2008-08-19
UK Release Date: 2008-10-06

On their third album, Montreal's the Stills sound supremely confident. Polished by slickly professional production, their songs are just the right length and build into effective (if predictable) crescendos from jittery, propulsive verses. They incorporate small, inventive sounds at the periphery of the sound, which lends the otherwise dense texture a certain light-footedness (check out the clapping percussive effect on “Snakecharming the Masses”). And their command of the texture of the alternate rock song is beyond reproach. Over the top of it all, the two vocalists Tim Fletcher and Dave Hamelin (who's also the main songwriter) broadcast smooth, Chris Martin-esque lines. It combines to create a picture of a band that’s super competent, whose craft is truly impressive – but who still somehow fails to really impress.

The trouble is, the Stills don’t really stand out, now, from the hordes of similar artists who trade in bombastic but melodic rock. And "triumphant", you know, has been done in a more memorable way by another Montreal band recently (you might be able to guess which one). Nevertheless, the Stills have shown us before they can do this almost perfectly. “Still in Love Song” was perhaps the best example of this band doing what it does to perfection. A simple vamp with a chorus that’s essentially just one note, it still managed to build an overwhelming atmosphere through layering guitars and sloppy cymbal-laden drums.

The band kicks their third album to a pointed start with the highlight track “Don’t Talk Down”, which may be a little (but only a little) less frenetic than the band’s earlier work. There’s no real sense of the group mellowing with age, though. Eight years in, and they’re still most comfortable with the overdriven, upbeat “triumph rock” thing. Tracks like “Snakecharming the Masses” are textbook indie rock – just enough inventiveness in the timbre to be slightly off-kilter, but mainstream enough to lock into place in time for the rather conventional chorus.

Over the course of the album, the band's tropes become more familiar: roiling instrumentals with stretched out vocal lines, energetic 4/4 percussion and occasionally, manufactured climaxes (a song called "Panic" repeats the word "panic" in the chorus, surprise). One chorus consists of a simple major scale, ascending. At these times the Stills are in real danger of becoming so involved in the textures and ambiences they create that they actually lose much of the hoped-for emotional impact.

In fact, it’s when the group focuses on simply laying out their mainstream-baiting melodies in a straightforward manner that they are most successful and, turns out, most genuine. “Everything I Build” actually sounds a bit like a Bob Dylan song; the postponement of an expected exploding timbre (which, in fact, never comes) becomes the hook with which this simple 4/4 song holds the listener. “Everything I build is breaking down,” the vocals repeat, when in fact this song is building up to the kind of phrase sticks firmly in your head for hours. Same goes for “I’m With You”, which is a bit too Coldplay for its own good but is still pretty effective pop.

In the end Oceans Will Rise strikes the listener as solid, appropriate, but not really that exciting. There are a few genuinely thrilling moments here, sure; but sitting through the rest of the album may be something for dedicated fans only, at this point.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.