The Stills, Logic Will Break Your Heart (Vice/Atlantic)

The Stills - Logic Will Break Your Heart The Stills
Logic Will Break Your Heart
Vice/Atlantic
By: Eric Greenwood

The Stills may share the same predictable, post-punk influences as every card-carrying band of hipsters emanating from New York City these days, but they've altered the bedraggled formula somewhat. In the grand scheme of things, catchy maudlin pop has been done countless times over, but at least The Stills show extraordinary signs of potential beyond the photocopied Echo & The Bunnymen and U2 songbooks tucked proudly betwixt the armpits of their black polo shirts, collars upturned.

Eschewing the gritty turbulence of post-punk products like Interpol in favor of lush textures and stately rhythms, The Stills explore a glossier, more dynamic dreamworld of dark, sophisticated pop (think Jeff Buckley covering The Smiths). There's an air of self-importance inherent to The Stills' melodic melancholy that few bands can muster fresh out of the box. It's a double-edged sword being confident in your competence- too much talent, unfortunately, is often equated with selling-out, which will send trendsters running for the hills.

The Stills will invariably run into trouble with guitar rock fans that will want to lump them in with the 'playing it safe for the masses' demographic that Coldplay currently dominates and seemingly caters to, but that's only slightly unfair, as the duplicitous content of the songs disabuse pretty much any notion of MTV dominance. And while the production's sleek sheen holds tight reigns over any explosive guitars threatening to get out of hand, The Stills still manage to build up enough tension to hold your attention through good old fashioned songwriting. Just because the music is easy to listen to does not make it easy listening.

The band's arena-rock tendencies will garner unfavorable U2 comparisons for all their lofty pretentiousness, but vocalist Tim Fletcher saves face amidst all the affected pessimism. His voice fits somewhere between Tom Yorke's indulgent weirdness and Jeff Buckley's faux-castrato. It's got just enough Kajagoogoo in it to make the ladies swoon, but it doesn't beat you over the head with its deftness. Fletcher exercises impressive control and flexibility for someone who hasn't been singing very long, and his sullen versatility matches his band's sprawling pop amazingly well.

Despite hand-wringing September 11th shout-outs and a few questionable song titles ("Yesterday Never Tomorrows", "Let's Roll"), The Stills actually do know how to turn a phrase. "Animals And Insects" is the most infectious piece of art-pop since anything off The Notwist's Neon Golden, replete with its desperate "Oh My God" refrain, bubbling electronics, and speaker-shaking low-end. And "Still In Love Song" is destined to be a mix-tape staple and, if it doesn't watch out, the soundtrack to some teen angst show on the WB.

Without testosterone-charged volume to hide its sensitivity behind, The Stills explore catchy melodies without cracking so much as an half-hearted smile. It's all doom and gloom but not of the Joy Division brand that you're used to lately, though that musical template is used liberally. It's much more gray than black. Instead, The Stills taunt and tease your inner goth with languorous melodies and chirping guitars in a gossamer landscape where texture and atmosphere outweigh substantive riffs.

Like The Strokes and Interpol before them, The Stills are riding a wave of hype that will put chips on the shoulders of embittered critics who will, in all seriousness, proclaim the band didn't pay its dues. But if things like immediate success and positive press don't cast a pall on your opinion of unheard music, then this record will likely impress, if not totally convert, even the most jaded of you out there.

!!!, Me And Giuliani Down By The School Yard (A True Story) Ep (Touch And Go)

!!! - Me And Giuliani Down By The School Yard (A True Story) Ep !!!
Me And Giuliani Down By The School Yard (A True Story) Ep
Touch And Go
By: Eric Greenwood

I'd never had much respect for Manchester's Happy Mondays until I saw 24-hour Party People, the film chronicling the rise and fall (and rise?) of legendary Factory Records' owner and creator, Anthony Wilson. The amount of drugs that lead "singer" Shaun Ryder evidently consumed in the early 1990's should have killed him ten times over. The man even had the gall to spend one of the Happy Mondays' entire recording budgets on crack, which garners automatic points, no matter how lame your band's psychedelic rave-rock really is.

Anyone predicting that the Happy Mondays would leave a lasting legacy, other than wildly absurd drug consumption, would unlikely be trusted in any capacity. But, lo, here comes !!! (pronounced Chik-Chik-Chik) from Sacramento, California, of all places, spreading the same burned-out, acid-funk gospel over ten years later. To be fair, !!! incorporates much more panache into its groove-oriented disco freak-outs than the Happy Mondays ever did, deliberately or by accident, and the result is much more than your average kitsch.

This 2-song, twenty minute EP is an ambitious step-forward from the band's infinitely tamer self-titled debut full-length, released in 2001 on Gold Standard Laboratories. Dancing is still the objective, but !!! fuses the Tom Tom Club's frivolous white-boy syncopation with ESG's polyrhythmic propulsion to make your brain feel informed while your feet work very hard to embarrass you. It's almost too clever by half, but these two songs veer in and out of so many unpredictable grooves that one almost can't help but fall in line.

The lyrics of the title track are appallingly dumb ("everybody cut and shake that butt"), eked out by lead singer Nic Offer in a snotty, post-punk drawl, but his attitude forewarns of an intimidating presence on stage. The Duran Duran-by-way-of-Chic guitar chops smack up against a bass line clearly stolen from 20 Fingers' "Short Dick Man." It's relentless in its quest to surprise your ears at every turn with everything from Queen-style handclaps to sprightly horns to a surprisingly dark reverberation of echoing guitars. The b-side is slightly less inventive, bordering on the obnoxious side with Offer's endless mantra of "can you feel it?" over dub-beats at which 1980's soundtrack staples, Yellow, might have even scoffed.

This EP is as frustrating as it is fun- a mass of contradictions and a mess of the highest order.