It was surprising to hear that one of my all-time favorite groups, Canada’s Stars, had already cranked out a new album. 2010’s The Five Ghosts wasn’t met with the warmest of welcomes (even I described it as an ‘off-day’, in spite of having many strong tracks), but this seems to have not deterred the band.
The overall tempo of The North is much better executed than its predecessor. The title track, a downplayed, repetitive number, gives you just enough breathing room between the big openers ‘Theory of Relativity’ and ‘Backlines’ and the somewhat verbosely titled ‘Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It‘.
And don’t let the name set you off, the song backs some of the biggest energy on the album:
take the weakest thing in you,
and then beat the bastards with it
…Torquil Campbell advises us. Good tip!
The album is filled with little unabashedly-Stars moments just like that. Through a magic that is theirs alone, The North is more optimistic than the past two albums in spite of the super-fun downer ‘Do You Want To Die Together?’. The song is so well crafted that you almost find yourself wanting to belt along with the chorus, despite the sheer morbidity factor.
Two more stripped down tracks bridge us over to what I anticipate to be my ultimate favorite on this record. ‘A Song Is A Weapon‘ opens with it’s own cryptic audio sample before diving right in. The song’s lyrics read like bitter vitriol on paper, but in the track they play with such cautious optimism that the figurative battle seems to be nearly won.
Tangentially political? Maybe, from a certain angle. But I think it’s really just a classic, wounded-lover Stars track. The only new twist here is it’s cast in some of their most exquisite songwriting to date.
Penultimate ‘The 400’ is perhaps the lone guarded moment on the album. The ambient aural fuzz instantly recalls Death Cab’s ‘Transatlanticism’, as does the song’s infinite iterations of its thesis. It’s shorter, but it doesn’t require the same degree of buildup to cut the listener to their emotional core; the lyric
it’s got to go right this time
it’s got to go right this time…
does the job just fine on its own.
And then the excellent little crossfade into ‘Walls’ to close? Big, fat synth on this track along with the harps is the perfect recipe for catharsis to a really amazing record.
The North is one of those rare records that you just want to play on loop multiple times per sitting. And why not? Milan and company are an experienced outfit making excellent use of their talent at its peak. Go ahead and indulge.