Stars, ‘The North’ – Album Review
Effusive, ebullient, endearing: Stars attract such affectionate adjectives like gravity pulls things to the ground. The band’s sixth album, ‘The North,’ is as sugary as you would hope — though, like a crème bruleee, there are secrets hiding beneath its sucrose-soaked surface.
The Montreal band’s pair of virtuosos, Amy Millan and Toquil Campbell, have a gift for conversational pop songs, though that’s hidden in the New Wave stomp of the album-opening ‘Theory of Relativity,’ a hard-partying nu-disco thing reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem. The song includes the direct, to say the least, chorus of, “We’re gonna rock DJ / We got a total f—ing alcoholic.” That ballsiness runs contrary to the sateen sounds of the subsequent tracks, especially ‘Backlines,’ a lush cut of pop rock that finds Millan matching the heart swells of her accompanying violins. But it’s not all sweetness: In the title track, Campbell laments that “sleep is my friend and my rival.” These are sensitive people making sensitive music.
The standout on the album is the uplifting ‘Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It,’ which has a declarative pop-music mantra: “Take the weakest thing in you and beat the bastards with it.” Oh, Stars, you are so very inspiring. Things do get sad, as they might for any band of poets, and amid the bluesy strut of ‘Do You Want to Die Together,’ Campbell asks, “What’s the use of writing one more song?” Millan’s reply: “Because it’s what you know, it’s what you know.”
The intimacy stays intense. ‘Progess,’ with its bit of xx minimalism, is a loose road-trip narrative featuring the fluttery gloss of Milan’s voice. Campbell finds a kind of strength in memoiric miasma, with ‘400’ speaking of cars to be packed and flights to be caught — though it’s in the closer, ‘Walls,’ that the album reaches its fevered fruition. The song dishes out knee-quaking, tear-tugging domestic drama, relatable to any listener that’s been on the outs with a loved one. The characters fall into nighttime, then into the bedroom — they can’t get away. It’s a sequence capped off by the question, “Do you love me?” answered with, “What am I supposed to say?”
For making music so light — those claptraps, synths and ethereal voices are the stuff of indie-pop perfection — Stars have created an album of outstanding weight, in every sense of the word.