Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Stars: "The Five Ghosts" (album review)

I have to admit I've found the last couple of releases from Stars to be hit or miss.  The last full length, In Our Bedroom After the War left me with a feeling of indifference.  The stop-gap EP that followed, Sad Robot, blew me away with it's direction and potential for the future.

On June 22nd the band release their latest album, The Five Ghosts.  A decade into their career and the Montreal band may have released their most consistent, engaging, and entertaining album to date.

The new album is a diverse collection of songs.  The band's sound has certainly broadened since they first came into our nation's consciousness with Set Yourself On Fire.  The gauzy swirl is still present, particularly on tracks like "He Dreams He's Awake" and "The Last Song Ever Written", but there is far more diversity now.

Earlier in their career, Stars never would have been able to execute a track like the album opener "Dead Hearts".  That song is as grand in scope as it is in drama.  The back and forth between Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan lends the piece a feel of a score from an indie rock Broadway show.

Continuing on their recent path, keyboards and synthesizers increase in prominence on the new record.  The keys shimmer on "Fixed", but it's on "We Don't Want Your Body" where they really push the boundaries.  That track has an indie disco flair, with Millan channeling Debbie Harry.  On top of that, Campbell performs what verges on a rap, something that easily could have ended in disaster.  Instead, the results are surprisingly fresh.  It's a bold risk that pays off.

On "Changes", Stars reach back in time, performing the song with a '50s pop sway.  With Campbell's sultry delivery and a modern indie rock charge, the track ends up sounding like Del Shannon passed through the prism of Stars.

Stars songs have always been about love and death, often in the same song (eg "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead").  That hasn't changed on The Five Ghosts.  What has shifted is the tone of the tracks.  Rather than being sombre and reflective, tracks like the fiery "I Died So I Could Haunt You" almost rejoice in positive memories.

Vocally there isn't much different on The Five Ghosts.  That's a good thing though, as the pairing of  Campbell and the ever charming Millan is one of the best male/female vocal sets in music.

With The Five Ghosts, Stars continue to solidify their place as indie rock elite.  Moreover, they've given fans an album that's so consistently good from start-to-finish that it won't be leaving my iPod all summer.

Best tracks: "We Don't Want Your Body", "I Died So I Could Haunt You"

Track listing for The Five Ghosts:

  • Dead Hearts
  • Wasted Daylight
  • I Died So I Could Haunt You
  • Fixed
  • We Don't Want Your Body
  • He Dreams He's Awake
  • Changes
  • The Passenger
  • The Last Song Ever Written
  • How Much More
  • Winter Bones

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