For over a decade Canadian indie-pop fixture Stars has been producing some of the most inspiring and utterly magnificent music of their time. They sing of love, loss, suffering, joy, sadness, freedom, struggle — the works. Throughout their illustrious career, Stars has provided their fans with music that speaks directly to the heart. In fact, the group is fixated with the heart. They love love — its ups and downs, highs and lows. Love found and love lost. And this is what makes the band so relatable and their songs so touching.
In celebration of the band’s performance at El Rey Theatre last night, here is my list of the top five Stars songs:
As the title implies, Stars’ sophomore album, Heart, boasts songs that are seeped in a myriad of emotions, and it is the title track that holds some of the most tragic. The song tells the story of two lovers — one who loves too much and one who just can’t love enough. Both want to make the relationship work. One wants more. And the other tries: “Alright, I can say what you want me to / alright, I’ll do all the things you do / alright, I’ll make it all up for you.” She then coos, “I’m still in love with you / I’m still in love with you.” But in the end, she leaves and the relationship finally crumbles. This song is like an emotional punch to the stomach, holding so much weight in its all-too realistic plot.
4. “Look Up”
Also off of their dramatic album Heart, “Look Up” delves into another layer of emotion, this time one containing inspiration and hope. The breathtaking song wraps you up and holds you through any pain or turmoil. The ending lyrics — “Rain is falling / looks like love” — are repeated over and over, invoking one of those moments when you lift your head to the sky and feel the majestic weight of the world around you.
3. “On Peak Hill”
The song “On Peak Hill” off Stars’ remarkable debut full-length, Nightsongs, sounds much lighter than the group’s more baroque tracks, but it still boasts the same emotional impact. It relays the wistful story of a person who wishes he could go back to a time before he knew heartbreak. The music is gentle and lighthearted, yet the message is saturated with loneliness and pain. Although the chorus sounds breezy, the lyrics state, “You’re gonna make me wish for a time right before I was born / where every living breath was another new dawn / like the time I was five at the top of Peak Hill / and the wind almost took me away.” However, as the song progresses, the character learns acceptance, and by the end, they are no longer in such torment. This time, the chorus reads, “You’re never gonna make me wish for a time right before I was born…”
2. “Going, Going, Gone”
“Going, Going, Gone,” another track from Nightsongs, is one of Stars’ darkest and most thought-provoking songs. There is something unsettling in the minimalist tones and child-like vocals. The song takes place in some sort of isolated limbo: “Killing time with gin and lime / each second numbs the pain / love’s just another rhyme.” The lyrics exclaim, “There’s nowhere to move on.” Trapped. They continue, “All I see, yeah, yeah / is me everywhere / it’s me.” There is something so haunting about this subdued track that it sticks with you long after listening.
1. “Your Ex-Lover is Dead”
I remember the chill that rushed through my body when I first heard the opening lines of “Your Ex-Lover is Dead”: “When there’s nothing left to burn you have to set yourself on fire.” This was the first Stars song I ever heard. The moment it ended, I was hooked.
“Your Ex-Lover is Dead,” the first track off the band’s spectacular third album, Set Yourself on Fire, is a heartbreakingly realistic song that explores the aftermath of the death of a relationship. It shows the emotional repercussions of love-lost, but not the backlash of the immediate falling out. It is the time after, the wistful melancholy and the eventual acceptance. “I’m not sorry I met you / I’m not sorry it’s over / I’m not sorry there’s nothing to save,” the lyrics proclaim at the end, coming to terms with what has transpired.
After these final words, the music bursts into a swirl of piano, strings, and drums that invokes a whirlwind romance. The song ends on a sober, yet strong note. No more dwelling in the past. It is time to move on. The way Stars presents this message is so powerful, the song will leave your jaw glued to the floor.
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