Rantings, reviews and lists from a person who structures half his life around obsessing over music.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Stars - Set Yourself On Fire (2004)

4.0 ★/8.0 - 8.9

How appropriate is it that an album, whose sole purpose seems to be to soundtrack those long drives in the rain after breaking up with a long term lover, opens with a song titled, “Your Ex Lover Is Dead”? A gale of classical sounding sorrowful strings rushes in and sets the introspective tone of the track. The two main vocalists, Torquil Campbell and Amy Milan take turns reciting clearly spoken verses, and relaying the minute observations of a failed love while the crescendos and marching drums enhance the narrative, before building up into an awesome harmonization between the two: “There's one thing I want to say, so I'll be brave, You were what I wanted, I gave what I gave, I'm not sorry I met you, I'm not sorry it's over, I'm not sorry there's nothing to save”. If you are not clinging to the closest pillow or stuffed animal at this point, you surely must not have a soul. One could dismiss the band as overblown sentimentalists, but the best thing about the album is how restrained each of the songs are. They know when it’s appropriate to stay ambiguous and when to burst out with oozing passion. "He Lied About Death" is a pedestrian attack on George Bush, but succeeds because the way the track builds up abrasive tension, adding more and more digital fuzz and noise before Campbell drops the line “tomorrow it's you and me...”, and the whole scene explodes in an enraged French horn solo. Evidently, Stars' mastery of volume must come with the territory of being on Art & Crafts (label-mates with Broken Social Scene - another purveyor of the crescendo), but it’s hardly an old trick. Their dynamics are what make the shimmering ethereal qualities of “Calendar Girl” stand out and inspire the gradually increasing wall of sound on the glitch pop influenced “The First Five Times” or the epic closing jam session of “One More Night (Your Ex Lover Remains Dead). And on the title track, the band seems to challenge themselves to throw as many harmonies and varying ideas into a single seamless composition as they possibly can. Yes, “The Big Fight” is almost too mushy for it’s own good, and sometimes a monotone song like “Sleep Tonight” just sounds lazy in comparison to their more daring tracks. But they’re only small blotches in the bigger picture: that Stars have released an album that breathes new energy, sophistication and creativity into a stagnating contemporary pop style.

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