The irony is I was going to write about The Stills this week. Only now, the angle changes.
After 11 years, The Stills formally announced their break-up on their Web site today, April 17, 2011. The Montreal-based indie-pop band of Tim Fletcher, Dave Hamelin, Liam O’Neil and Oliver Corbeil left only three full-length album as their legacy. A case-study in quality over quantity.
In my years as a music writer, I’ve come to the conclusion that most writers or bloggers like two types of artists: A) the power-house bands of their genre or B) the up-and-coming acts of whom no one outside of their immediate family has heard.
Lost in the middle are bands just like The Stills. They are the bands that find a moderate level of success, produce quality work, have few detractors but get lost in the in the shuffle. Often it is because of bands or artists with lesser talent but more hype.
Critics didn’t love their work – everyone’s favorite Pitchfork gave their debut album a 5.1. The reviewer complained that they were too much like The Posies and that Flechter’s voice was too perfectly modulated. Their next two albums earned a 6.7 and 5.8, respectively. Okay ratings, but not a PR person’s dream score, either.
Maybe their music was too accessible for many critics. That was one of the things I liked most about them, quite frankly. Seemingly every song they released could have been an ’80’s-era pop-rock radio hit.
The Stills are a shining example of what can happen when a band sets out to make great pop music. Their debut album, Logic Will Break Your Heart, was one my favorite of 2003 (although it didn’t pick up steam until 2004). The album was fantastic top-to-bottom and featured the singles, “Lola Stars and Stripes”, “Changes are No Good” and “Still in Love Song” along with my favorite tracks “Alison Krausse” and “02 Gender Bombs“.
The Stills – “Alison Krausse” (live)
I wonder what would have happened if The Killers had not seen the level of success they found with Hot Fuss in 2004? Would The Stills have been the break-out, cross-over band of the year?
I ask because if you go back and listen to the two albums side-by-side I think you’ll find that they stack up well against each other. Both bands mastered danceable indie-rock. Both bands had lead singers with strong, yet nonabrasive voices. The before-mentioned Pitchfork rated Hot Fuss a 5.2 or essentially the same score as Logic Will Break Your Heart.
Yet it was The Killers who exploded on the mainstream while The Stills took three years to release their next album.
That follow-up album, Without Feathers, was the band’s second release on Vice. It generated the band a bit more buzz and included the track, “Being Here” for which there was a stunning video directed by Teqtonik. From a fan’s perspective, it was another strong album.
The Stills – “Being Here”
What appears to be the band’s final album, Oceans Will Rise, was released in 2008. It featured the songs – and video – “Don’t Talk Down”. Although it wasn’t received as well as their previous two album, it was a respectable release.
The Stills – “Don’t Talk Down”
Then, after months of whispered speculation, it was over. The band decided that it was time to move on; time to call it a career.
Two weeks ago the music world was paying tribute to the end of one of last-decade’s indie stalwarts, LCD Soundsystem. They went out with a great deal of pomp-and-circumstance befitting their influence and popularity. Their exit was in grand style.
Alternatively, The Stills’ end came quietly with only an open letter on their Web site. No months of hype. No send-off at Madison Square Garden. No “Goodbye” tours. Just a quiet exit out the metaphorical backdoor. It was a fitting end to a band whose music never had the spotlight it deserved.
Maybe The Stills were the quintessential “indie” band of the 2000’s. One whose fans and followers never had to rationalize the band’s mainstream success because “their” band never crossed-over. In many ways that is the greatest shame of it all. Because if a band deserved mainstream popularity, it was The Stills.