Montreal’s shining alt-music heavyweights Stars are once again lighting up the music world with their 6th studio album, The North. Formed in 2000, the indie pop staple are known for their beautiful melodies mixed with thought-provoking, haunting lyrics, and The North is a bit of a culmination of all of Stars’ past albums.
While many of those previous efforts centered on a single idea to create an intricate story, The North focuses less on one theme and more on a collection of all of the members’ thoughts, emotions, and experiences. While the music on this album still exhibits a melancholy feel, Stars seems to have escaped many of the troubled thoughts that inherently come from the uncertainty of youth, a topic they often focused on in the past (particularly on Nightsongs). They have learned and grown both as individuals and as a unified entity.
Stars is well known for their formulaic album style, and while their music transforms and develops with the times, the way in which the band sets up the track listing and feel of each song is consistent throughout their repertoire. Although this parallel attack works in many parts of The North, there are some cases where the band wasn’t as successful as they have been in the past.
Take for instance their third single, “Backlines”. The song is formulated to be like The North’s version of The Five Ghosts’ “I Died So I Could Haunt You” and “Wasted Daylight” along with Set Yourself On Fire’s “Ageless Beauty” and “What I’m Trying to Say.” However, “Backlines” feels like a watered-down version of these staples and just doesn’t seem to live up to its predecessors. It is the slower, more emotionally complex songs that better rival the highlights from Stars’ earlier repertoire.
The album begins with Stars’ obligatory moment of conversation in order to establish the album’s theme. This time, the album version of their single “The Theory of Relativity” begins with “Well, the only way I see this happening is, uh, in an extended ride north.” — an ambiguous statement for an equally ambiguous theme. The track itself, though, is probably the most musically complex song on the album. It’s is a bit more dancey than most Stars’ tracks, but in a refreshing and quite enjoyable way, proving that the band is evolving their style, which is rare for a group that has been around for this long.
“The Theory of Relativity” reveals the knowledge and solidity that derives from experience. “Now that you’ve grown so wise, use that head and stop to think a little / just ‘cause you’re crazy doesn’t mean that you’re free,” lead male vocalist Torquil Campbell sings. However, the song also grapples with the resistance and acceptance of the years passing and the transition into a time in life in which you have to face maturity’s ultimatum head on. In one of the verses, he goes on to explain, “But it can’t be 93 sadly ‘cause I wish it could forever / you call it luck I call it tragedy.” By the end of the single, Stars acknowledges that it is a fruitless battle and comes to terms with the inevitable. “So don’t be scared,” the band sings.
On the other side of the spectrum, the more subdued and forlorn song “The 400” dwells on longing and loss. “You know I’ll see you again / It’s just an hour or two by aeroplane,” the song coos. However, the surface confidence is a shaky façade for the band’s own insecurities and sadness. Following this, the chorus repeats, “It has to go right this time” over and over, seemingly to convince themselves and sooth their fears of uncertainty.
The song’s lyrics then mournfully add, “There’s no way back to that house you knew so long ago.” This parallels back to “On Peak Hill” off their freshman album, Nightsongs. Over a decade later, the band still searches for a way to get back to their warm and familiar home, but now accepts that it is too late. The fight is futile and there is nothing you can do but adapt, even if that involves masking your fears in order to survive.
“Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Get It” — a song with an unusually long title that consists of an entire repeated line from the song — preaches a very important and undeniably true lesson in love. The blunt yet rather profound song explains lyrically, “And the only way to last / and the only way to live it / is to hold on when you get love / and let go when you get it.” It continues to give pretty smart advice about love — how to accept it and at the same time be selfless. However, the song continues to explain that strength and empowerment is also key. “Take the weakest thing of you / and then beat the bastards with it,” Campbell sings with conviction.
However, the song’s second character, female vocalist Amy Millan, expresses feeling uncertain about being able to make Campbell’s advice work. “I know it’s true / at least I think I do / nothing that I say or do will make you love me.” This is honestly a pretty accurate reaction to how a person would feel after being given advice that is so plainly true. It seems simple but taking it is much more complex and difficult than it would seem on the surface.
Another standout single is the musically peaceful yet lyrically somber “The North” — the perfect example of a trademark Stars’ song. Unlike the quite obvious purpose of “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Get It,” the song’s theme is much more elusive and subdued. “Sleep is my friend and my rival,” Stars repeats throughout the track. From the lyrics to the music itself, “The North” exudes an aura of cold. With a heavy heart, the band pushes itself in to a form of mental hibernation. Campbell almost whispers, “It’s so cold in this country / you can never get warm.” And later explains a haunting story — “There was a girl who he married / and he left far behind / he couldn’t picture her face now / it was like he was blind.” “The North” features themes of light confliction that invoke a feel of melancholy and nostalgia.
Like with all of Stars’ albums, The North provides a cathartic experience filled with dark beauty and airy jubilance. Unlike with many other bands, it is not hard to listen to the entirety of a Stars’ album in one sitting. In fact, their mesmerizing music is so powerful, it is easy to get lost in the swirling melodies and inspiring lyrics. Happily, Stars was once again able to deliver this experience to their well-deserved myriad of adoring fans.
Stars Tour Dates:
09/07 – Halifax, Nova Scotia – Summer Sonic
09/20 – Portland, ME – Port City Music Hall #
09/21 – Boston, MA – Paradise #
09/22 – New York, NY – Webster Hall #
09/23 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club #
09/25 – Charlottesville, VA – Jefferson Theater #
09/26 – Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle #
09/27 – Charlotte, NC – Visulite Theatre #
09/28 – Atlanta, GA – Variety Playhouse #
09/29 – Nashville, TN – Mercy Lounge #
10/02 – Louisville, KY – Headliners Music Hall #
10/03 – Cincinnati, OH – 20th Century Theatre #
10/04 – Indianapolis, IN – Deluxe @ Old National Centre #
10/05 – St. Louis, MO – Plush #
10/06 – Columbia, MO – The Blue Note #
10/09 – Lawrence, KS – The Bottleneck #
10/10 – Tulsa, OK – Cain’s Ballroom #
10/11 – Little Rock, AR – Revolution Music Room #
10/12 – Houston, TX – Fitzgerald’s Upstairs #
10/13 – Dallas, TX – Granada Theatre #
10/14 – Austin, TX – Austin City Limits
10/17 – San Diego, CA – House of Blues #
10/18 – Los Angeles, CA – Mayan Theater #
10/19 – Santa Cruz, CA – Rio Theatre #
10/20 – San Francisco, CA – The Fillmore #
11/07 – Portland, OR – The Aladdin Theatre #
11/08 – Seattle, WA – The Showbox
11/09 – Victoria, British Columbia – Save on Centre *
11/10 – Vancouver, British Columbia – Rogers Arena *
11/12 – Kelowna, British Columbia – Prospera Place *
11/14 – Calgary, Alberta – Stampede Corral *
11/15 – Edmonton, Alberta – Rexall Place *
11/17 – Winnipeg, Manitoba – MTS Centre *
11/19 – London, Ontario – John Labatt Centre *
11/23 – Kingston, Ontario – K-Rock Centre *
11/24 – Toronto, Ontario – Air Canada Centre *
For more information about Stars and a free download of the single “The Theory of Relativity,” visit Stars official website.
Also, check out NPR’s full stream of The North or listen to the album on Spotify.