There are few bands brave or stupid enough to deliver a debut album so perfectly formed as 2004’s Logic Will Break Your Heart that they feel the need to start again. In what became a game of musical chairs for Montreal’s The Stills, the lead guitarist quit, the drummer became the singer, the singer became the lead guitarist and a band that once crafted stadium-sized pop songs with charm and finesse turned their back on the record that made them.
The darkly titled Oceans Will Rise does much to address the balance between The Stills of Logic Will Break Your Heart with The Stills of its disappointing follow-up, Without Feathers. Conscious to not make the same mistake again, or perhaps reconciling the decision that pushed lead singer Tim Fletcher to lead guitar and minimised his contribution to the previous album to two songs, the opening track “Don’t Talk Down” features both Tim Fletcher and Dave Hamelin trading verses over a vamp-ish organ and bass combination that assuredly sidesteps the past and announces that The Stills have confidently re-entered the game.
Love and death are still the motivating forces for The Stills, making Oceans Will Rise a cornucopia of hope against helplessness. “Snow in California” takes a literal leap into the climactic change hinted by the album title, a song borne and written (as several seem to be) from being on the road. A light and breezy track, Fletcher looking for some meaning amongst the passing scenery – “snow in California/bring me back to life”. The single “Being Here” is The Stills by numbers with a big chorus and chiming guitars that doesn’t match the same sonic thrill of say “Lola Stars and Stripes”. More rewarding is the Eastern European feel of “Snakecharming the Masses” built around a tribal-sounding rhythm that paired with the subtle swell of Fletcher’s vocals finds The Stills at their most experimental and captivating.
The noticeable difference between Oceans Will Rise and previous Stills albums is the amount of invention and variation between songs. Certain instruments will be accented and used as the rhythmic focus to forgo the need for drums and bass to allow further expression and it works perfectly on a track like “Everything I Build”, stripped down to a repeating guitar and keyboard motif, creating the fragile state required. “I’m With You” is in the same anthemic pop arena as “Being Here”, a straightforward song to a significant other with a ringing chorus that bravely cuts to the chase – “I’m with you/if you want me to”.
Given that Oceans Will Rise could easily have revisited the Canadian roots rock of Neil Young and The Band that influenced Without Feathers and forced us to reconcile our first impressions, The Stills have done well to dispel the myth of their demise. From the menacing beauty of the gold-painted skull on the album sleeve to the buoyant melodies that weave through the songs in waves, there is much more to this album that meets the eye, and a feeling that Oceans Will Rise was as much a revelation in the making as it is in the listening.