The highlight of the Stills' third album is "Being Here," an anthemic piece of U2-inspired rock that finds a compromise between the band's post-rock beginnings and the dusty Technicolor strains of Without Feathers. Tim Fletcher's vocals are the stuff of stadium rock shows -- all high notes and reverb -- and guitarist Dave Hamelin plays descending riffs like the Edge's hipster doppelganger. Nothing else on Oceans Will Rise matches that sort of grandeur, but the band still sounds energized and confident throughout these 12 tracks. Appropriately, this is the first time the Stills have returned with their lineup intact -- co-founder Greg Paquet quit in 2005 to finish college, setting off a chain of events that included the addition of drummer Julien Blais and keyboardist Liam O'Neil and the promotion of former drummer Dave Hamelin, who took up Paquet's vacant spot on lead guitar. Coupled with a natural desire to push the envelope, the new version of the Stills took a different approach to 2006's Without Feathers, but they didn't comfortable with their sound -- quite possibly because they'd already been pigeonholed as disciples of Joy Division, a band that shared few similarities with the Stills' new direction. Without Feathers was a conscious move away from that style, from the congested genre that had labeled the Stills a New York band despite their Canadian citizenship. The flaw wasn't in the songwriting itself, but in the band's inability to form a tight enough unit to deliver such an unexpected album.
It's with relief, then, that the Stills pull themselves together for Oceans Will Rise. Like Without Feathers, the album explores a continent's worth of new territory, but it does so with brash confidence and a subtle "screw you" attitude. The bandmates don't bat an eyelash when they throw a disjointed bridge into the middle of "Being Here," only to launch back into the song's accessible hook 20 seconds later. "Panic" features a similar moment; before the tune concludes with chiming guitar arpeggios and thick harmonies, the band launches into a heavy metal freakout for four quick measures. Perhaps the Stills' strongest asset is knowing when to say when, and Oceans Will Rise also features a number of well-crafted songs that don't feature such unanticipated turns. "Snow in California" tackles climate change with lush, electro-shoegaze atmospherics, while the eerie, percussive "Snakecharming the Masses" -- perhaps the best tune the Music never wrote -- explores the band's lingering dark side. Oceans Will Rise is a return to form for the Stills, who've earned their merit as an experimental group with a strong knack for pop/rock hooks.