Thursday, August 30, 2007


I was getting worried there for a bit.

I saw that Stars would be coming to the 9:30 Club on October 20th on the band's website, but when the 9:30 Club released the calendar for their fall shows, the Stars show wasn't listed.

Finally, I got the e-mail last night. Stars will indeed be performing at the 9:30 Club on October 20th, so I bought 2 tickets faster than you can say "Your Ex-Lover is Dead."

What can I say, I love this Montreal-based alt-pop band and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Amy Millan's voice is like a soft-spoken seductress whispering in my ear and Torque Campbell hits all the emotions a man feels while in a relationship but never dares confess. And while they can get a little corny every now and then, Stars usually hits every note they aim for.

For people not familiar with the band, Stars will be the "oh, that's who does that song" kind of band.

Their first album, Nightsongs, I never bought, but from what I can tell from listening to the 30 second snippets from iTunes, it sounds like their weakest album. I'll get around to buying it eventually.

Their next album, Heart, was hit or miss, but when they hit, they hit the bullseye. The opener, "What the Snowman Learned About Love" is an epic track, beginning with a simple techno-esque drumbeat intro that instantly does a 180 and becomes something completely different. Slowly, one-by-one, more musical layers are added and the lyrics don't kick in until about 2 minutes into the song.

"What the Snowman Learned About Love" is where Stars begins for me and it's the album opening track that I compare all others to.

But wait, it gets even better. "Elevator Love Letter" is a bouncy, yet melancholy ode to one's job getting in the way of love.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album fumbles over itself a bit, before being salvaged by "Time Can Never Kill a True Heart", "Look Up" and the tragic "Don't be Afraid to Sing."

And while I may be a little hard on Heart, it's still an amazing album, which would have been hard to top, but Stars did just that with Set Yourself on Fire.

Simply put, Set Yourself on Fire is one of the best albums to come out of the alt-pop scene in the 2000's. It's chock full of amazing songs, from the death of a relationship in "Your Ex-Lover is Dead" to the optimistic epic "Ageless Beauty."

But the real zinger on the album is the title track. Usually, title track songs are muddled attempts at saying something important. I don't know... all I can say is that I usually find them to be letdowns.

Not here.

"Set Yourself on Fire" is hands-down Stars' best track in their history. At first listen, the song may appear to be a jumbled mess, with too many musical layers and too many sound changes. But this is the kind of song you let yourself sink into like quicksand, slowly making yourself aware of what's going on around you. And in the end you'll be asking yourself "what is that one thing?"

SYOF was such a hugely successful and popular album that the album was re-released in 2007 as Do You Trust Your Friends, with each song being covered by the band's closest friends, mostly indie-Canadian alt-rock bands.

So after SYOF, I didn't expect Stars to top that album with their next release, In Our Bedroom After the War, but I was pleasantly surprised when it was released. Currently listed with a release date sometime in mid-September, the band opted to release the entire album digitally -- get this -- only 4 days after the album was completed back in July.

Is that cool or what?

Rather than let the album get pirated and downloaded illegally in the time before its release, the band allowed people to purchase the album from iTunes and other legal music download sites.

IOBATW was an initial disappointment. I thought the Stars sound was too stripped down. I thought they sorely missed the synthesized sounds that engulfed most songs on SYOF. But as I listened, the album continued to grow on me. "The Night Starts Here" is an excellent song to have on in the background before a night on the town, "Take Me to the Riot" is Stars at their mid-relationship argument best and "Life 2: The Unhappy Ending" is a slick tale about yearning for the life-affirming feelings of pain and loss instead of numbing suburban happiness.

I'd probably put IOBATW between SYOF and Heart as Stars' second best album. It's more consistent than Heart, but it doesn't come close to the grandness that is SYOF.

At any rate, I could sit here all day and tell you how great this band is, but you just need to experience the band on your own if you haven't already. At first you may dismiss them as hokey-sounding, pussy-rockers, but take another listen and shed the pretentiousness you may carry around with you as a music fan.

I can't freaking wait to see this band live. And while I think Stars may be the rare band where it will be hard for them to duplicate their complex sound on stage, I am eager to find out.

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