ALBUM REVIEW Stars paint memories in shades of longing
Five Ghosts explores a new theme of sweet morbidity
Released June 21, 2010
If anyone asked me what band I could listen to without ever getting sick of them, I’d have to say hands down, it is Stars. Stars, a Canadian indie pop band, is closely related to the band Broken Social Scene (actually, all of the members of Stars are members of BSS). The band is known for setting poetry to music; it is difficult to describe their musical style without using the words beautiful or ethereal. Their characteristic electronic sound is interwoven with string instrumentation, narrative lyrics, and soothing, caressing vocals. Their songs range from whispered words to upbeat numbers. I can’t help but gush about the vocals. Quite a few of their songs feature duet vocals with Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan, whose voices create a harmony that cannot be duplicated easily.
Even when Stars ventures into more catchy, pop territory, the vocals continue to bring depth to the tracks. Laced with wistfulness, the vocals mingle and intertwine to create an atmosphere of longing and reminiscence, not unlike that of sifting through memories one holds dear to the heart. These ghosts that linger in the backdrop are ghosts of feelings, memories, and secrets.
Hence, I found it quite fitting that Stars’ most recent album is entitled Five Ghosts. With all their heartfelt songs about hearts, memories, and lost lovers, I thought it’d only be a matter of time before they explicitly addressed the ghosts. There is a quiet morbidity to Stars that is often overshadowed by the solid vocals and lyrical narratives. However, Five Ghosts highlights this morbidity and creates something eerily beautiful and delicate from the dark recesses of the tone. While they wander off from their normal ballads about unrequited romance and lovelorn individuals, they are still able to retain their trademark style.
My personal favorite tracks are “Dead Hearts” and “Changes.” “Dead Hearts” follows the classic formula of Stars’ hit songs. Crooned phrases dissolve into upbeat catchy instrumentation, climaxing with strings. The lyrics are what really drew me to the song—there is an innocent curiosity with the ghosts.
“Changes,” a soft ballad, is more in the style of the Stars’ past albums back in 2005 and 2007. Millan takes her time in reassured and lilting croons. The bass and faint electro instrumentation could easily be swapped with acoustics. Although one can distinguish more of Stars’ original roots, they still show more maturity and growth since their last album. The simplicity of the instrumentation serves as a platform for the gorgeous vocals as Millan’s voice curls around the listener in a snug embrace.
On the other hand, “We Don’t Want Your Body” is snarky and tongue-in-cheek. Very much so on the extreme pop spectrum of Stars’ style, it deviates from the album’s haunted themes about those who dwell in the past. Millan lends her vocals to a coquettish sing-song chant: ‘You tune into my frequency/That don’t mean a thing to me/ Cause I don’t want your body/ I don’t want your body’. The song easily conjures up a tasteless scorned lover, whose advances are rebuffed repeatedly.
There are those who claim that Stars only has two colors: ebullient pop songs and melancholy ballads epitomized by lovelorn croons. I’d argue that the most impressive thing about Stars is their nuance and spectrum of colors.