Stars starts strong but ultimately falls short in "The North"
Two years after releasing the critically acclaimed, fan-favorite album “The Five Ghosts,” indie darlings Stars return with a brand new album entitled “The North.” Stars is a Toronto-based band that began in 2001 with the electro-centric release “Nightsongs.” Over the years, Stars has progressed from making predominantly electronic music to a more rock-friendly, Smiths-inspired sound. Vocalists Torquil Campbell and guitarist Amy Millan are huge aspects of Stars that set the band apart from the rest of the indie bands of today.
Album demonstrates both signature sound and versatility
The first track, aptly titled “The Theory of Relativity,” opens with an 80s new wave beat, accompanied by equally 80s-infused keyboards. The song has an immediate element of catchiness, hooking the listener in at the get-go. It showcases that Stars’ sense of melody is virtually unmatched in the indie rock scene. The next track, “Backlines,” is more guitar-based, with Millan taking the helm vocally. Her soft yet powerful voice sings “Calling on the backlines / Crawling for the battle to the other side / The courage a lot lighter / I see it in your eyes.” This song not only displays her vocal talent, but also her lyric writing prowess.
The title track “The North” takes a slower turn, relying on Campbell for the majority of the vocals. This song shows that Stars is not simply an indie-dance band, but has dynamics and versatility. On this track in particular, Campbell’s voice shines as a truly underrated element of Stars’ signature sound.
“Do You Want To Die Together” again shows the band’s diverse sound, using 50s-style rhythms reminiscent of The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody.” Lyrically, the song is clearly inspired by Morrissey of The Smiths, using dark imagery that is somehow sweet and romantic with the chorus repeating “Do you want to die together? Yes I do. Yes I do.” This song is sure to appear on the mix-tapes of indie kids everywhere.
Lacks memorability with disappointing end
The album then transitions into predominantly mid-tempo tracks. Though this contrasts with the first section of the record, it shows the true talent Stars has in songwriting and instrumentation, using everything from tambourines to lush string sections in songs such as “A Song Is a Weapon.” The ballad “The 400” is piano-driven, with just a hint of electronic sounds and guitars fading in and out of the background.
The record ends with another clearly 80s-influenced track called “Walls.” Though this song is catchy, it seems to simply fade in and out while making no real impact. In comparison to the very ambitious, unique and memorable songs that made up the first half of the album, this track seems to be oversimplified and forgettable. “Walls” is an unfortunate closer for an album as great as this. The album deserved to end on a much more memorable note.
In a time where indie bands are a dime a dozen, Stars clearly defines itself and sets itself apart. The band takes cues from its musical forefathers and brings new and unique elements to the table. Stars seems to have found the perfect mix of rock and electronic music. This is a truly stunning follow-up to an incredible album, not falling too short of its predecessor. While Stars isn’t quite a household name, they are sure to experience some of the commercial success of bands like Passion Pit and MGMT should they continue on the road they currently travel. It proves that poppy music does not have to be cheesy or formulaic, that it can be unique and refined while still being irresistibly catchy. In a genre that is becoming overrun with copycats and flavor-of-the-week pop bands, it can become more and more difficult to set oneself apart — but Stars holds its own and has put its own unique footprint on independent music.