Release Date: Jun 22, 2010
Record label: Vagrant/Soft Revolution
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Canadian quintet’s sixth full length dials up the drama Nine years ago, Stars burst forth with Nightsongs, their intelligent, delirious debut. It was Leonard-Bernstein-does-Europop, surging skyward with a sunny warmth that would inform their subsequent albums, Heart and Set Yourself on Fire. With their newest release, though, that flame has flickered into ash.
For those still groaning about the exaggerated theatrics on Stars’ last record, say hello to the Canadian quintet’s fifth full-length album, aptly titled The Five Ghosts. Don’t worry, it packs the same profundity, rhapsodic charm and orchestration of previous records, but Stars takes it one step further, intensifying their indie-pop wizardry. “We Don’t Want Your Body,” a spunky, dance-driven duet between Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan, leads with Campbell (gasp) rapping—sort of.
One of the most interesting facets of Stars is their near-complete lack of evolution. Flaunting their sad and sassy pop that appears to have emerged fully formed from day one, the Canadian five-piece theatrically redefines cool with tales of love, death, and life in between. Their fifth studio full-length The Five Ghosts is another album in a long line of works that are sure to make teens weep and well-adjusted adults hopelessly nostalgic.
From the beginning, what has made Stars unique has been their ability to craft gorgeously dreamy pop music without sounding overly precious or nauseatingly cute. Indeed, that’s quite an accomplishment, sustained over the course of four excellent albums, given the Toronto band’s main ingredients—boy/girl harmonies, fuzzy instrumentation chock full of electronic burps and giggles, and high fructose singalong melodies –- a combination that lesser bands use to churn out excessively twee, assembly-line bunk. How have Stars managed to succeed where others have so often erred? The answer is simple: it’s the songs.
Returning to work with Tom McFall, who produced the group’s 2005 album Set Yourself on Fire, Stars recorded their fifth outing in their home city of Montreal, writing together as a unit in the studio. Self-funded, as the first of Stars' releases for their own Soft Revolution Records, The Five Ghosts finds the fivesome mainly playing it safe. As suggested by the title, the album involves a loose concept about ghosts, with songs like “I Died So I Could Haunt You” and “He Dreams He’s Awake,” as it tips back and forth between melancholy yet shiny ballads and saturated, coffeehouse dance music.
If there's a star in Stars, it's Amy Millan, at least on the Montreal band's fifth album. Her voice is delicate yet absolutely assured, and expressive in a way that makes it more than simply "pretty." The indie pop five-piece is prone to melodrama - characters are always weeping, breaking down, running away - but Millan convinces. (Don't be put off by her child voice in opener Dead Hearts.
In the last decade, there haven’t been many bands pushing forward different forms of pop as a sophisticated art form so seamlessly. Gradually reinventing themselves, but in very subtle ways, Stars have gone from impassioned indie-darlings to a thinking man’s musical equivalent of a Harlequin novel, unabashed about sugarcoating emotional impulses that mostly ring true to whomever is willing to accept the dramatics of love. Steadily overgrowing their youthful rebellion, the members of the Canadian pop outfit are now wary of the idea of mortality as a transition amid the grand scheme of things; eternity, if you will.
Montreal's Stars make a very different sound to the euphoric, genre-colliding racket of the members' other group, Broken Social Scene. Their fifth album typifies Stars' more epic melodrama – in awe of Prefab Sprout, New Order and the 1980s to the point where you can imagine videos featuring moody-looking types staring over windswept beaches, pondering Russian novels and their spots. It's all absurdly pretty.
Stars have never done "small" very well-- hell, I don't think they've ever done it at all. The Toronto act, now entering their second decade, have built a reputation on filtering tragedies of the heart through a widescreen lens, most excellently on 2004's Set Yourself on Fire. Even 2007's theatrical In Our Bedroom After the War exquisitely mired itself in misery, sounding more like 13 takes on the Smiths' "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me" than the original cast recording of Gypsy.
Canadian band Stars has rarely been shy about their wide-eyed embrace of sentimental indie pop, enthusiastically blending heart-on-sleeve lyricism with the appropriate amounts of ambient guitarwork, electronic percussion, and singsong melodies. “A K-Way jacket torn to shreds, and a dream inside our heads,” leadman Torquil Campbell sang with teenage bliss on 2004’s “Soft Revolution,” proving that the Canadian quintet would be perfectly suited for a Twilight movie soundtrack, if not for hovering in perpetual obscurity below the “indie mainstream”—as ironic as that term is. The Broken Social Scene part-timers’ fifth studio album, The Five Ghosts, does little to deviate from the aforementioned formula, falling somewhere between the murky waters of M83’s current shoegaze-glazed pop and Billy Corgan’s overly tweaked The Future Embrace sound.
Here We Go Magic Luke Temple could be talking to himself in a song called “Collector” on Here We Go Magic’s second album, “Pigeons” (Secretly Canadian), when he sings, “You find the Lord in repetition.” His kind of repetition is the ceaseless, clockwork patterns of New York City art ….