In today’s pop music climate, the boundaries are being pushed in all directions. You are just as likely to hear a cello as an electric bass, bassoons nudge up next to samples from 70's cartoons, and if you look hard enough, you'll probably find everything else in-between. The Stars' new album Set Yourself on Fire pushes both ways on the technological axis while finding plenty of room in the more traditional spaces in the middle.
Coming out of the same Canadian primordial stew that gave us Broken Social Scene and Apostle of Hustle, amongst others, Stars seem perfectly positioned to take American CD players by storm. Their new disc starts off nicely with "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead," which thrills with a full string section in lieu of a rock set-up. It's a nice touch, and throughout the rest of the album, it seems to be the smaller, little moments that stand out the most. The title track comes next and juxtaposes itself with a more modern sound, but its power comes in the rattling tambourine in the short bridge midway through the song. The electronics of "Big Fight" make way to a bassy goodness in its outro, which outclasses the rest of the tune in a few short moments. Again, it's the little things: a French horn here, sporadic powerful drum fills there. It's a shame that the album isn't full of more of these moments and less of the standard pop fare that is obscuring the flashes.
The music seems to be set up as a frame for the vocals and the lyrics. Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell's two voices bring a nice male/female dynamic to the otherwise forgettable lyrics. The two engage in conversation at times, harmonization at others, and even a sort of dueling of competing monologues at other. There are songs about love and sex and even an anti-war tune, admonishing their neighbors to the south, in "Celebration Guns," but Set Yourself on Fire, even in its title, seems to have much less passion than it pretends to. On the whole, this is an example of where the frame may be more interesting than the painting it contains.
Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about the album is that each song is so different. It almost sounds like each track is a completely different band altogether. Between the wide range of instrumentation, vocals, energy, and mood, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what the Stars sound is. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, in this case, it doesn't help to differentiate Set Yourself on Fire from the noise of the rest of the pop rock offerings available these days.
JamBase | New York
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