Release Date: Oct 14, 2014
Record label: ATO
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Electronic, Indie Pop, Chamber Pop
Throughout their 15-year career, Canadian outfit Stars have delivered a consistent output of quality indie pop, always owning their own sound as trends came and went around them. Whether they're working in shimmering synth tones, introspective acoustic songs, or warm-hearted guitar pop, a Stars album almost reliably sounds like a Stars album, and that's no small feat. Their identity is built on heartfelt, personal songcraft, a fluent pop vocabulary, and the dueling voices of singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell.
Few bands can claim to get better with age, but Toronto/Montreal indie stalwarts Stars are still perfecting their smart-and-sensitive brand of indie pop nearly 15 years in. On their seventh full-length, the cleverly titled No One Is Lost (because everyone is, right?), they come roaring out of the gate with disco-dappled opener From The Night, which glides along for seven glorious minutes as effortlessly as the roller-skater on the album cover. Singers Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan's boy-girl vocals have always served as the essential yin/yang that underpin Stars' sound, and the duets here are better than ever, particularly You Keep Coming Up, which offers a hat tip to aughts electro with an outro that veers into almost Four Tet/Caribou territory.
Pop music, almost by definition, is watered down. Music for the masses means accessibility is king, marked by obvious on-ramps, broad-based topics, and a sunny-side-up disposition. Pop music as escapism. Of course, this is less about set-in-stone rules and more about this reviewer's half century-long observance of Top 40 radio fare.
Among the most dependable Canadian indie-rock institutions of the post-millennial era, Stars are just as easily to be taken for granted at this point as they are to be appreciated. What was most astonishing about the band when they landed their critical and popular smash with their third album, Set Yourself on Fire, a decade ago, is how fresh their sound was. Inverting the experimental-noise-to-pop-melody ratio of early collaborators Broken Social Scene, Stars made a record that bounded seamlessly from the blissed-out electronica of its title track and the gorgeous shoegaze-pop of "Ageless Beauty" all the way to the gnarled post-punk fury of "He Lied About Death.
Canadian indie pop troupe Stars have come a long way from Set Yourself on Fire. That iconic LP hit shelves in 2004 to worldwide critical acclaim thanks to inventive melodies that got the blood rushing. Wistful strings soundtracked fickle roving through elementary emotions, but the album was bound together by the type of meticulous sewing that makes for real nuance and depth.
Stars honed the songs on their new album in a rehearsal space above the Royal Phoenix nightclub in Montreal. The band claim that the location informed the nature of the album’s songs: “The sub-bass throb coming from the club below our studio was undeniably and unavoidably influential. It motivated us to out-throb the throb”, explains drummer Pat McGee.
Remember that time when the band Stars released one of the single greatest pop songs in the past five years and almost nobody knew about it? You don’t? Well guess what: sadly, you’re not the only one. After their 2004 album Set Yourself on Fire became somewhat of an indie classic in its own right, the band left the Arts & Crafts label to release 2010’s slightly more melancholic The Five Ghosts before returning to the big league’s with 2012’s well-received The North. While that album did get their best-ever chart rankings in both the U.S.
Stars would likely be flattered if you called them “pop” and honored if you called them “sophisticated. ” You shouldn’t have to choose between the two; as their previous collaborator/remixer Owen Pallett will be more than happy to tell you, a lot of science goes into bubblegum. But since their 2004 breakthrough Set Yourself on Fire, Stars made those terms seem mutually exclusive, as their charms were obscured by haughty thematic concepts (In Our Bedroom After the War), doughy orchestration (The Five Ghosts) or astonishing self-regard (the abominable remix LP Do You Trust Your Friends?).
Head here to submit your own review of this album. There's a quietly discomforting sample that crops up almost unnoticed early in the runtime of No One is Lost: the seventh full-length from ubiquitous Montreal pop troupe Stars. It appears in the closing moments of 'This is the Last Time' - a driving synth-christened disco-rocker that could have capably fit anywhere within the quintet's back catalogue following their 2004 breakout LP Set Yourself On Fire - and could easily be overlooked as a throwaway moment following the prior track's glitter-dusted bombast.
Stars are one of those bands that it’s difficult to get a real handle on; I can’t think of too many valid points of comparison for the trajectory that their career’s taken since they broke through with their third record, 2004’s Set Yourself on Fire. That album was met with serious acclaim from pretty much all quarters, and rightly so; it was an indie rock record crafted with genuine skill and intelligence in a way that, for a while, it seemed as if only Canadian artists were capable of - it didn’t necessarily boast the high drama of Arcade Fire’s Funeral, a fellow nominee for the Juno Alternative Album of the Year award in 2005, or tap into baroque pop eccentricity quite as deeply as Owen Pallett has on his solo releases, but it was one of those records that threw up new nuances with every listen, and Stars had the alternative world, at least, at their feet. Since then, they’ve routinely proved their own worst enemies.