Stars - Set Yourself on Fire
"When there is nothing left to burn, you must set yourself on fire."
With the direction of new music, one has to wonder if music is truly
(and has been for a long time) spiralling downward into the realm of
entertainment. Translation: How many more artists can sell out to fit
a mould or model a certain sound so as to make money and hit a target
Now, I'll admit that I know NOTHING about Arts & Crafts Records
and their origins (except that Brendan and Drew from Broken Social
Scene used to be in the band called Hhead and Leslie Feist was in a
By Divine Right video) but dangit all...someone over there in Montreal
has got something RIGHT!
Amy, Torquil, Evan and the rest of Stars have proven this truth with
a fiery album of passion-driven pop that will not lay down and go
quietly into the night. From the the first time audio introduction of my
ear to 'Ageless Beauty', I was a hardcore addict of whatever these folks
were making. Their power pop drive with incredibly ecclectic
instrumentation reminds one of The Rentals (the self-title LP) but with
much more depth and bounty within the content. Apparently,
'Nightsongs' and 'Heart' (their first two full length releases) were so
critically warranted and supported that the cry for this album has been
sounded throughout the country for some time. Having heard neither
album, I can honestly say that from having absorbed this one, I plan to
become a Stars archivist in a massive way.
It should not go without noting that I was somewhat opposed to this
album upon its initial spin, on a drive from St. Catharines to Ottawa, with
my wife and cousin Ben in tow. Ben pleaded that I would like it from the
get go but my experience upon that trip (horrible traffic, incredible
thanksgiving weekend 401 slow downs) largely affected my initial intake.
Sarah had played me a few of their tracks from ITunes but there were
only two on the album that she and I liked. I must admit that my
introductory diagnosis was far from the final destination.
This album was summed up in a recent review as 'robots, sex and death'.
I'm not really gospel on those terms but I see those words as being
thematic emblems of the sound of this album. Robots: The electronic
nature of every song, that though even backgrounded, plays a major role
and makes you feel like someone is playing an Atari 2600 or Coleco
system in the studio. Cool. Sex: Romance and intimacy are very
prevalent, lyrically (seen in songs like 'One More Night' discussing the
unspoken emptiness of fast love), not in a gushy or overbearing format
but with a truthful and resonant spirit. Death: I think what I love most
about this album is that it is not saying nothing like most major releases
these days (Jack White a prime example of someone who constantly
says nothing and gets paid to do so) - it is most definitively about
'something'. Whether that is the end of life as we know it or the problems
of medicine, (evident through their promotion of doctors without borders)
Stars don't annoy with their stances but only wish to have their ideas
staged upon a brilliant base of exploratory and warming sound beneath.
The title track 'Set Yourself On Fire' is a grand indication of this band's
talent - it starts slow and reels you in but then throttles you into a
full-speed ahead, bass-driven pop ballad. The crystally bright electric
guitar sound gained my trust all through the entirety of this disc and it
never let me down once. In a recent review on BWC, some critic made
some remarks about an ArcadeFire review and that the reviewer did not
'give the album enough time to ruminate and sink in' or something
horse-manurish like that. Even though that can't always happen as
reviewers must meet deadlines and put food on their tables, it is nice
to have the time to do so when you can. This album was something
that required rumination...and the end result won me over.
So many people told me that even after the 'Ottawa drive with cousin Ben'
incident that I still needed to give this album another chance...and so many
people were right. This is the best rock/pop album that I have had the
pleasure of being acquainted with...probably ever.