Sound — 7
Debuting in 2011 with their self-titled release, the shoegaze/indie loving (and occasional playing; it becomes hard to tell which is more prominent) Gauntlet Hair is back with "Stills." Consisting of Illinois natives Craig Nice and Andy Rauworth, Gauntlet Hair is a primarily noise-pop group, though the nods (often bows) to their predecessors in indie and shoegaze have been ever-present since their first EP, "Out, Don't..." With their debut in particular, it was easy to love the band for its tunes but easier to question their creativity. More baffling than some of the nods to Morrissey or The Cure are the band's claims that Beyonce is an influence on Nice's beats. Put it all together, age it for a few years, and you have "Stills." Thankfully less redundant (and reverent) than their debut, "Stills" is a brief but pleasant rumble. From the synth-poppy "Human Nature" and industrial "Bad Apple" (think Julien-K meets The Smashing Pumpkins' "Adore" album to the brief and dreamy "Obey Me" to finale "Waste Your Art" (admittedly featuring a hint of Nine Inch Nails), the band seems overall tighter and gritter than before. Though the inspiration from '90s industrial and '80s synth is pretty clear, it is celebrated rather than cashed in on. Unlike many would-be "inspired by" acts, Gauntlet Hair seems to attempt to convince us they're both respectful of the original material, as it were, and willing to give the style their own treatment. Overall an improvement in style, "Stills" still shows a Gauntlet Hair rather stuck in the style of its heroes, but with some inspiring moments of their own ("G.I.D." is pretty tight), perhaps its founders still have the guts to give listeners a unique take on the genres they themselves so enjoy. "Human Nature" is bordering on being one of the genre's greatest album openers, if only there were a few more liberties taken. Likewise, "Obey Me" is a solid enough interlude to suggest some real potential in this all-too-proud-of-its-influences little noise-pop setup. Altogether, "Stills" is unexciting, but at the very least Gauntlet Hair has yet to become a cover band.
Lyrics — 7
Vocally, Gauntlet Hair is mostly unremarkable but generally a pleasant experience. Vocals alternate a couple of times, from a grumbling baritone to what sounds bizarrely like Courtney Love ("Spew" having the greatest contrast between the two). In the same vein, the lyrical content is mostly indistinguishable, but good. Some of the same narcissism and topics as on any industrial-inspired record show up here, from depression to "Human Nature" (heh) and so forth. There aren't any particular thrills, though it certainly is a thrill that neither element falls flat.
Overall Impression — 6
"Stills" isn't a surprising turnaround for Gauntlet Hair by any means it's essentially a continuation of the last album's appraisal of the band's influences but it's an improvement over the band's previously difficult to love technique. The record is so brief that any slow moments aren't apparent, and if nothing else the record serves as a great introduction to the less-involved, less technical side of indie-pop, industrial, synth-pop, and so forth (the list of influences here really is extensive). With any luck and a heavy dose of honing its style, Gauntlet Hair will churn out a real joy in the next few releases. "Stills" is, if nothing else, a firm step in the right direction.