Still Life Still began their career as underdogs: with 2009′s Girls Come Too, they operated within the massive shadow of their label-mates Broken Social Scene. The comparisons were (and are) inevitable: Same label (Arts & Crafts), same home-base (Toronto), same general aesthetic (sprawling, anthemic indie-rock arrangements mixed with startlingly frank lyrics). Between violent guitar spasms, Brendon Saarinen twisted graphic pillow talk into poignant poetry. Familiar maybe, yet quite effective.
But Still Life Still’s sophomore LP, Mourning Trance, resonates on a deeper level — mostly because it doesn’t try as hard to impress. Alex Bonefant offers lush, synth-heavy production, and Saarinen has turned toward a more nuanced, imagistic lyrical style (“What does the world want?” he wonders on the slow-jam “Thinking About Our Plans,” elongating each syllable in a pained croon). As a result, they’ve carved out their own unique niche within the Social Scene — which isn’t to say they’ve escaped it entirely. Saarinen still sings like a brattier Kevin Drew, and the arrangements still capture the jigsaw puzzle grandeur of You Forgot it in People. Nonetheless, Mourning Trance ebbs gracefully between propulsion (the funk-prog assault of “Dancing Spines”) and atmosphere (the spiraling psychedelics of “Werewolves”), never once losing its grip.