Release date: September 4, 2012
Stars are streaming their new album “The North” over at NPR. And after a few listens, it’s clear that the band were aiming squarely for the current musical milieu of ample synthesization, and there’s not a little M83 influence running through the album’s DNA. But while it’s well-produced and crafted with care, there is no real sense of urgency, nothing driving the band to great heights. There’s quite a bit of regression as well (more on that below). “Efficient” seems to be the operative word here, both for the new album and Stars’ entire ouevre.
They seem to want to straddle the current explosion of Montreal’s electronic music scene (led, for better or worse, by Grimes) and Ben Giggard’s brand of songwriting, to say nothing of the male vocals. They can engineer beautiful sheets of sound and melody, as they do on single “Theory of Relativity,” an M83 analogue, but then just as quickly disappear down maudlin rabbit holes, which they quickly do on “The North.”
“Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It” is very clearly a stab at Cut Copy’s aesthetic, which is not unwelcome. It’s catchy, uplifting and incredibly good electro-pop, but it finds the band mapping themselves on current musical tastes, perhaps out of simple inspiration, but mapping nonetheless. Then there’s a flashback to the mid ’00s with “Through the Mines,” a song that will probably appeal early Stars fans.
Inexplicably, Stars shift course on “Do You Want To Die Together?” to pursue the stadium rock pleasures of Queen, then go for delay-laden dream pop ballad with “Light Changing Colour”. The Gibbard quotient multiplies on the next few tracks, especially with the song “A Song is a Weapon,” that gives new meaning to the word “hollow.” But there is some redemption to be found in the track “Progress,” which is a minimal bit of electro-pop, though the chorus is rather unimpressive. Stars prove here, however, that they can be mesmerizing and creative within their limitations.
The same cannot be said for the album as a whole, which suffers under the weight of a band interested in pursuing new musical avenues, but perhaps a little frightened of deserting more familiar musical pastures.