Like all Canadian bands, Stars have their roots firmly planted in the Broken Social Scene tree. They’ve worked together off and on since the early, early pre-2000 days. Oddly, I started getting into Stars before I really got to know Broken Social Scene. Finding out the two bands were connected certainly wasn’t a shock as they seem to have some similar attitudes toward recording and performing. As a whole I think that Stars has produced better albums than BSS, probably due to more consistency in the lineup.
I would go out on a limb and say that since 2004, with the release of Set Yourself On Fire, Stars have made great music for eight straight years. My favorite album by them has some of their darkest moments, but is also filled with tremendous hope. In Our Bedroom After The War was the album I heard that made me think “this is a band I will follow until the end.” Torquill Campbell and Amy Milian share such a unique chemistry as they trade vocals back and forth that I think it’s impossible not to love them.
On their new record, The North, there isn’t a ton of growth from Five Ghosts. It’s no step backwards though. They try some different things that I haven’t quite heard from them before. The beginning of the record sounds very influenced by “Just Like Heaven” -era Cure and Erasure’s better days. Stars drift back and forth between atmospheric dream pop and guitar driven rock easier than any band I’ve ever heard, and they do it so often that it might happen three or four times in one song.
My favorite from this newest release is “Do You Want To Die Together.” Campbell and Milian sing at one another line after line about their devotion while the background is filled with an ethereal 50’s guitar and drum sound. After the second verse the music explodes with fuzzy guitars battling against one another and screaming hither and yon. As always the lyrics speak plainly and with feeling (remember each verse is a-b with Campbell as a and Milian as b)
I love you til the day I die
So don’t die today, please don’t die today
Everything but you is an ugly lie
That’s not how you pray, that’s now what you say
If I’m here when you’re gone I’ll fall apart
Stop your crying now, stop your crying now
What’s the point of life without my heart
You’re not dying now, you’ll survive somehow
Another great one is “A Song Is A Weapon.” This one has Campbell alone singing, I believe, about people who use religion and the concept of Hell to scare people into giving them money. That’s my interpretation and I could be completely off-base. It is a bit odd to the ears because it almost sounds like that Enya song from about a decade ago-I can’t remember if it’s “Only Time” or “Sail Away.” It’s one of those two. Buy the record and listen to this song and let me know if you hear it too.
For some reason, coming into this record, I kind of figured Stars was ready for a big fall. Making good music is hard work, and everyone fails at some point. After three albums I would consider great, I wouldn’t have begrudged them for making a bad one. Truthfully, this album exceeded my hopes and shattered my fears. It isn’t wildly different from their previous efforts, but why fix what ain’t broke. There’s nothing here as soul-crushing as “Personal” and nothing as poppy and fun as “Take Me To The Riot.” The North is more of a balancing act between the melancholy and joyous that Stars have been walking on either side of for the past nine or ten years.
It’s like they say on the final track of the record, “Walls,” “How did we get here? We took the slow way.”
The North came out on Tuesday and is available at all the usual places, including iTunes. The band is currently on tour in North American through November when they head over to Europe. Sadly, at this time they have no dates set up in Chicago. However, Chicago pop group California Wives are opening a lot of shows for Stars, so if they can’t come here at least a little bit of us is with them.