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Stars find true North

Stars (Press photo)

It’s been two years since the last full-length album from Canadian electro-pop powerhouse Stars, but it feels like it’s been a sprawling, star-scrawled eternity.

After 2010’s melodramatic The Five Ghosts, Stars’ latest LP The North is a refreshing step back into sincerity and soliloquy. Domineering the album is well-washed nostalgia and cynicism, something that was sorrowfully absent from the overwrought musings of The Five Ghosts. Instantly, there is an unforeseen jarring richness—a low-flying glassy vessel of harmonies and stark pounding bass.

Where Ghosts was more infantile in its over-the-top gothic melancholia—sort of aimlessly precocious—True North is an exercise in laser-focused facetiousness and frustration in the most manic way possible.

The rapid fire raggedness of opener “Theory of Relativity” indicates something’s dislodged; all that mock virtue and vagrancy is eschewed for more palatable anger and ennui. “Total fuckin’ alcoholic,” spits co-vocalist Amy Milan in a harsh singsong. It’s wiry, pointy and dirty—a rebellion of sense and sensibility, but it’s glossy and rich with metallic synth shimmer.

Canadian pop crooner and co-captain Torquil Campbell delivers some of the most articulate and immediate prose of his career. The rest of the band harnesses a visceral mishmash of viral, pulsing beats and bass. A bellowing low-end of belligerent basslines by Even Cranley amid ferocious drums lays a dark and dense foundation for slippery glitch beats, cynically happy hooks and emotional exposition.

However polished and pockmarked the band may have become, after their less than stellar previous offering The North is a return to form and forititude. The band have grown, harnessing lyrical cynicism and cyclonic rhythm for a whirlwind of pop appeal.

“It’s so cold in this country,” claim Campbell and Milan on the floating, exhumatory title track. “You can never get warm,” as if they’ve been trying for years. But it seems they’ve found a hearthstone, because The North is a creeping, indelible warmth. Milan sings “Don’t be scared, there will be things we never dared,” and they mean it.

The tracks are tightly wound between hesitation and reproach. The band digs towards truth—almost begrudgingly back in the thick of it. “Crawling from the bottle to the other side. This living isn’t hardwired,” cries Milan on “Backlines,” a buzz-laden push from infamy to honesty.

Bridging the troublesome gap between popularity and relevance, Stars have propelled themselves back into intense idiosyncrasy after the somber, sonic stumble of The Five Ghosts.

Armed with a skeptic’s eye and an electronic wall of ethereal elegies, they’ve proven that the Canadian music scene is a force to be reckoned with.

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Nick Laugher
Nick Laugher
Never profiting from the pithy pitfalls or pedantic antics of the common journalist, Nick "Noose Papermen" Laugher has continuously baffled readers by demonstrating a rare understanding of the vagaries of our current cultural climate. Rumored to have been conceived and raised in the nook of a knotty pine somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, Laugher was forced to abandon his true calling (pottery) after having one night experienced a vision in which a wise and generous hawk appeared to him through the shimmering static of his television set. The apparition spoke to Laugher of an aching need for some new kind of media perspective, one that elegantly incorporated esoteric vocabulary, gratuitous alliteration and penetrating pun-manship. And so it was. And so it is. And so it always will be.

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