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LITERATURE

 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Stars
Set Yourself on Fire
Arts & Crafts International

Rating: 8/10 ?


April 11, 2005
What Berkeley, CA in the 1980s and 90s was to punk rock, Montreal and Toronto are now to independent rock. Acts such as Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, and now Stars, have taken the art-to-music approach from obscurity to cult following in a matter of years.

Stars are not something new to the scene. Recent release Set Yourself on Fire is their third full-length in a catalog that also includes a few short running players. Heart, a 2003 release, was their first raised flag to achieve acclaim and pronounce their collective spirit, one penetrated by the effects of love and advancing maturity. Set Yourself on Fire doesn't divert from this effective formula but it is also fresh enough to incite acceptance in current and new listeners alike.

Set Yourself on Fire is a release of unexpected dimensions. The quintet is precise in their playing, and you can tell that the production of the album has nearly as much importance in the creators' minds as the creation of each track. What really jumps out is the maturity in instrument choices (creativity in dynamics, good feel for when to play/not to play) and inclusions (violins, violas, cello, French horn).

Then again, there are moments when the mature characteristics are put aside for an innate proclivity to be poppy. At these moments electronic drum programming and bubbly synthesizers conjure comparisons to more adolescent-friendly indie popsters Postal Service. Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan at times even have a similar vocal chemistry to Ben Gibbard and Jen Wood (especially on "What I'm Trying to Say" and "The First Five Times") - but don't read too much into the comparisons, because they are only a small part of the big picture that is on display.

What has more presence on the album is song topic. Words of Campbell and Millan are brief poetic descriptions of scenes or experiences typically from a first person point of view. Many of the ideas feel as if they are glimpses into the vocalists' lives - often regarding desires towards "you," that one person who has tormented the heart of the singer for quite some time now. They are incomplete love stories, atypical and potentially more tragic versions of the 'boy meets girl, fall in love, happily ever after' line.

"Reunion" displays the general idea most clearly when Campbell half-whispers, "Your face is all that hasn't changed/you're reassembled just like me/but when I reach to touch your hand/you stroke mine gently." There moments of the sentimental yearning game that feel too pushed and wispy as in "Sleep Tonight" during lines, "You will cry/and I will cry/because all the love's/alive tonight." Even that guy from Dashboard Confessional is almost puking in his mouth for that last one.

Speaking instrumentally, the blending of style textures is simultaneously taut in technique and comfortable and low intensity in creative nature - elements of soul (electric bass, drum backbone), acoustic and chamber pop (songs that open into tranquil horn/strings parts), and British-feeling indie rock (somewhat similar to Badly Drawn Boy, although members are from US and Canada).

In lyrics and music alike, Stars aspire to move forward into refined tastes but still hold onto the many loves of their younger years, whether for relationships or for a sense of pop bounciness. At the same time the band recognizes their staying power - the effects of the present remain just as they did during the days of the fondly-remembered past. Overindulgences aside, Set Yourself on Fire will receive nearly as much praise as it will overall constructive critique.

Reviewed by Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other reviews by Josh Zanger

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