Back in the early '70s, Woody Allen put together a collection of essays called Without Feathers. The tome is a vehicle for Allen's hopeless, despondent humor, the kind that is not merely hysterically funny, but also abruptly distressing.
So these days, if you're just getting to know The Stills, you'll realize why they chose to name their sophomore release Without Feathers, and why it couldn't be a more perfect description of the band. Hopeless. Despondent. Hysterical. Abrupt. Distressing. Strikingly talented.
But still hopeless.
"You have high hopes for shit and it never seems to work out that way," snaps The Stills' guitarist Dave Hamelin into the phone. Like any good Woody Allen plot, Hamelin's day has gone to pot. First, there was the blown tire. Then the mixed-up interview times. Add that on to his already putrid displeasure for the press and you've got one irked putz.
"There's just too much information out there about us, and most of it isn't true," he says. "And no one bothers to ask me about it. So I get a bit pissy, yeah."
Hamelin refuses to elaborate on the specifics, but what is clear is that he and vocalist Tim Fletcher met in Montreal when they were youngsters and started The Stills with former guitarist Greg Paquet. The Stills' debut album, Logic Will Break Your Heart, was a lush, post-punk overture that had the press calling them the next Interpol. But with the 2005 departure of Paquet, Hamelin was forced to step up from the drums to the forefront, and the band added keyboardist Liam O'Neil and drummer Colin Brooks.
The changes took their sophomore album from hipster to heartland. The band discarded most of their new-wave tendencies on Without Feathers and found a brighter, folksier resonance.
Hamelin's effect on the sound of Without Feathers is immediate. He wrote or co-wrote nine of the 12 tracks and helped produce the album.
"There are a lot of subtleties to this album," Hamelin says. "That said, I don't think it's that big of a change or such a big deal that it sounds different. Would everyone have been happier if we had just made the same record over and over?"
He huffs and puffs a bit over the phone, emphasizing his displeasure with the insinuation that the changes in his music are anything but genuine.
"I'm sorry," Hamelin sighs after a bit of silence. "It's not about you. It's about me. It's about pressure piling up. Shit."
He gives up and mutters unintelligibly. And for a moment, he sounds like a hopeless schlep named Woody on the other end of the line.
The Stills play at Soma on Oct. 3. Doors open at 7 p.m. $12. 619-226-7662.