Monday, 14 June 2010
Genre Indie pop/rock
Producer Tom McFall
Release Date June 22nd
Without a shadow of a doubt, Stars (aka the best thing ever to come out of Canada) are one of the most underrated bands in the world. Though they have been releasing albums since 2000, not nearly enough people are aware of their work.
This is truly a shame, because over the years and five studio albums they have produced some fantastic music, ranging from slow ballads to acoustic numbers and hard rocking tunes, showing the kind of consistency and multi instrumental musical talent that is extremely rare. This quality is perhaps best typified by the sublime "Your Ex-Lover is Dead, though trying to find a single song to represent a catalogue of such varied styles is a largely futile pursuit.
This month they will release their eagerly awaited album Five Ghosts, and it comes highly anticipated by music fans in the know.
While Stars have recorded a number of fantastic songs over the years, most of their albums have generally been a bit hit and miss, with a handful of amazing tracks and then an equal number of forgettable ones. Five Ghosts is certainly more consistent than their other albums, which is partly due to the album being cut down to just 11 tracks, and more than any other album they've released feels like a cohesive whole, rather than just a collection of songs.
The sound has evolved somewhat as well, and listeners will find this album to be much heavier on the synth than they are used to from Stars. But fortunately the essence of Stars remains intact, the finely orchestrated melodies, the rhapsodic choruses and intricate lyrical jousting between Torquil and Amy.
The themes here will be familiar to any fan of the band. It's introversive stuff, with lyrics about awkwardness, sexual tension, self-doubt and frustration. But more than that it's about longing, and the driven pursuit of self-understanding. Lyrics that can occasionally border on the depressing and transformed into upbeat pop gems by this passion and energy that can be related to by romantics everywhere.
The album opens with a suitably surreal number in Dead Hearts, a melancholic duet ushered in by urgent guitar strings and dreamy progressions which builds to a climactic finish. Perfectly sets the mood for the rest of the album.
This is followed by one of the best songs on the album, Wasted Daylight, a mid-tempo number with soothing vocals and a lightly electronic flourish in the chorus, reminiscent of the Cranberries or some of Imogen Heap's better songs. A good summer song, talking about lazy days in bed perennial ennui. Very tight and polished.
The slightly creepy I Died so I Could Haunt you is another good song with tempo and drive along the same lines of Take Me to the Riot from their last album. The thunderous finale to this song epitomises what Stars are all about.
The next song, which is also the first single, Fixed, is the closest thing to Ageless Beauty on the album, a dynamic and properly rocking tune with some of Amy Millan's finest vocal work to date.
It speaks to the quality of the album that I find the second single, We Don't Want Your Body to be one of the weaker songs on the album. Quite different from most of their music, this one is undeniably catchy, but for my money a bit monotonous and sounds somehow cheap.
Here the album takes a bit of a dip, with the forgettable and self-indulgent He Dreams He's Awake, though Changes makes a nice change of pace offering a likeable, silky Dusty Springfield-esque ballad.
The Passenger is a heavily electronic song by their standards, and I imagine will be something of a love it or hate it element. As with even the poorer songs on this album it is undeniably catchy.
This is followed by The Last Song Ever Written, a song with uncharacteristically terrible lyrics from Stars, but still extremely listenable, particularly once the song reaches the half way point where things really spring to life. With respect to Torq, as soon as Amy starts singing the song ratchets up a level, something that's probably true with a lot of Stars songs.
After a few sleepy numbers, How Much More takes a surprisingly upbeat turn. This is Stars at their most uplifting and intense and would have made a fitting closing track, finishing the album with a bang. But instead Stars opt to leave us on a more somber note with the brooding Winter Bones, effectively bringing the album full circle.
This is not the best music Stars have ever produced; more so than with their other albums, this one might take a few listens to grow on you. There are a lot of good songs here, but perhaps not one that really shines as brightly as others on previous albums.
That being said, the overall quality of the album is definitely higher and more consistently good, and the top tracks on this album are really pretty excellent. And as with all other Stars albums, creativity is abundant and the mixing and production is absolute top notch. The album is definitely the better for bringing back producer Tom McFall, not seen since Set Yourself on Fire.
In the end, this is another fine addition to the Stars library, and certainly one of the best albums from this year so far. Stars have written better songs than these, but don't let that take away from some really fantastic music.
How Much More
I Died So I Could Haunt You