Stills is the sophomore release for Gauntlet Hair, the Denver, CO based duo of Andy R. and Craig Nice. Like their 2011 debut, this album reveals itself early on to be the product of two musicians that are equal parts obsessive listeners and meticulous composers. Stills runs the 80’s gamut, indebted to everything from the most obscure post-punk to maximalist radio pop/new-wave. For anyone who has ever had a love affair with any genre from the decade, this album makes for an exciting game of ‘spot-the-influence’. Unfortunately, it is this over saturation of ideas that hurts the album in the end.
Stills works best when Gauntlet Hair aim for straightforward, minimal production, and even more so when they avoid cramming as many influences as possible into one song. “Simple” is a prime example of this: while there are traces of Vini Reilly and Martin Gore, the song is powerful enough that it can avoid such comparisons. Other standout tracks include “Obey Me” a quiet dirge and a homage to 80s melancholic new wave (see: INXS) that abruptly transforms into “Heave”, a song which bears uncanny resemblance to a number of tracks from the first Killing Joke record. While these tracks are well written, the clashing of influences begins to wear thin as the album carries on.
Perhaps the most bizarre marriage of Gauntlet Hair’s influences comes towards the end of the record, with “Falling Out”. For even the most casual of music fans, this track will surely result in a sensory overload. In the first 30 seconds, the group moves from chime-y Prince funk, to a hook borrowed from Zeppelin (Immigrant Song’s battle cry, verbatim), to a bent Jesus and Mary Chain-esque drum loop. The song is just as confusing as described, and perhaps a good example of why this album will fall short for most people: there are so many ambitious ideas at any given time, it makes it difficult to focus on the heart and soul behind the music.