With all the really bad shit going down on this rock we call Earth right now (famine, war, global warming, escalating gas prices, the Jonas Brothers), it’s easy to let yourself get caught up in a panic. Theoretical questions — Is the human race going to survive? Is the Earth going to disappear tomorrow? When will war end and peace begin? — will become weighty inner-brain discussions as you become increasingly sure that you can solve all the problems that those douches in the White House, and nay, the world, haven’t figured out.
If you get pissed off enough you’ll make an album. As works by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, John Mellencamp, and George Michael (for christ’s sake), have taught us, that album will suck. Hard. But those big “State of the World” albums aren’t just for gray-haired, dried-up, soft-rockers anymore: Indie bands are also capable of blasé message rock.
On their appropriately (and doomily) titled third album, Oceans Will Rise, Montreal band the Stills address the end of the world in the only way they know how — with marginally catchy, heart-on-sleeve ballads that never hook up with their aspirations. As they say on “Snow in California”: “The world is changing, so gather up your friends.”
The Stills have always been somewhat a victim of circumstance sound-wise, as their first album, the brooding Logic Will Break Your Heart, had the unfortunate task of trying to do Joy Division-meets-pop-post-punk when Interpol had the market cornered. On their sophomore album, Without Feathers, the band opted for roots-rock crossed Kinks-style swagger, when every hot indie-rock band putting an album out in ’06 was doing the same (Dr. Dog, Takka Takka, the Walkmen, and Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, among others). Oceans Will Rise is a bit of a sonic hodgepodge of the Stills’ last two albums, but it finds the band stretching themselves out to the anthemic heights of another used-to-be post-punk band hell bent on political chronicling: U2.
Nowhere on the album is the band’s newfound self-importance on more prominent display than the aforementioned “Snow in California.” The song begins with a clarion call of reverb-heavy guitar, and then transitions to a sing-along verse that features gems like, “Like snow in California/signs from up on high” and “O the world is changing/ Mayan Calendar ends.” Coupled with songs like “Panic,” which lists instances of environmental strife (like polar bears falling though ice), “Dinosaurs,” about extinction, and “Everything I Build” a chronicle of how bad humanity has made earth, it makes for an album-long soapbox session.
But coming from a band that used to name songs “Ready for It,” “Gender Bombs,” and “Lola Stars and Stripes,” it seems like a desperate bid for attention and importance. It’s not that rock bands can’t cover social issues, it’s just that no one particularly wants them to. In the end, Oceans Will Rise becomes yet another voice yelling from the pulpit that some bad shit is about to go down, while simultaneously benefitting from the panic it creates.