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The Stills - Without Feathers

Released on Vice/Atlantic, 5/9/06

It took The Stone Roses five years and five whole minutes to get to the actual "song" part of the first song on their sophomore slump album Second Coming back in 1994. The Stills tease us with a minute of feedback, twinkley pianos and a Big Country like guitar line before launching into the first verse of the aptly named track "In The Beginning" which leads off their second full length, Without Feathers. Apparently long intros are secret musician code for delusions of grandeur.

It is immediately evident that Montreal’s one-time pretenders to the Interpol throne have spent the three years between albums listening to music that doesn’t come with the Williamsburg hipster appeal stamp of approval. At first listen, Without Feathers sounds self consciously ambitious, as if the band is trying hard to distance themselves from the pundits who rattled off comparisons to Echo and The Bunnymen ad nausea back in 2003.

Piano and Hammond organ take over for the guitars that defined their debut, Logic Will Break Your Heart, and while that may be initially disconcerting, the end result is nothing if not…pleasant. The Stills have made some lineup changes this time around and vocals are divided 3 to 1 between onetime drummer David Hamelin and guitarist Tim Fletcher, i.e. the one that sounds like Chris Martin.

Staccato riffs give way to a more organic flow and the occasional hint of Elton John/Billy Joel/Tom Petty melodrama. We always knew the Canucks were suckers for a bit of schmaltz, and who can blame 'em. "She’s Walking Out" conjures up Oasis by way of Be-Bop Deluxe, "Helicopters" would have been a hit on Live 105 back in '89 and "It Takes Time: reminds us that comparisons to The Strokes weren’t too far off the mark.

Diehards may question the need for a horn section in these stripped down times -- for Christ sake half the bands these days don’t even have a bass player -- but there’s something to be said for a bit of lush orchestration once in a while. And it takes 70s style balls to put one of the best songs, the plaintive "The House We Live In" at the end of the record. All in all, a sterling second effort.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars