Stars
Set Yourself On Fire
Arts & Crafts
2004
B+



before everyone creamed their pre-teen jeans on the advice of publications like ours about the Arts and Crafts label’s hip and upcoming band du jour, the quartet that makes up Stars had already logged a debut album and recorded their second album—their first for Arts and Crafts. Mixing a healthy love of the twee electronic pop of Momus minus the conceptual concerns that frequently bog down his work and a penchant for a more rollicking sound that approached 80s mainstays New Order and the Smiths.

Amid all the hype for Broken Social Scene, though, Stars’ stellar second album, Heart, got lost. Even housing the single best single of 2003, “Elevator Love Letter”, didn’t help much. It didn’t help that nothing could match the extreme height of that particular song, but overall the album bettered its predecessor: ditching almost completely the nods to Momus and going straight for romantic comedy credits placements with songs like “Romantic Comedy”.

So it should come as no surprise that Stars has returned and, without the overshadowing hype of a labelmate’s record (does Apostle of Hustle count?), have again created a near-masterpiece of a pop confection. In fact, as far as entries into the keyboard-heavy electro-pop epics category go, it’d be fair to say that Stars have created this year’s outstanding entrant.

It’s not that the male-female duo vocals make it or even the moments where the group channels the Delgados in their sublime use of strings and horns; it’s more that Stars has gotten tighter since their last outing. Codas don’t sound like tacked on reasons to wank, parts of songs fit together more intimately and, most importantly, there doesn’t seem to be wasted moments.

Wasted songs? Sure. “Celebration Guns”, “He Lied About Death” and “Calendar Girl” could all easily have been relegated to B-sides for the stellar singles that should be forthcoming from the album. But even as you begin to note their possible extraneousness, it’s also clear that these forays into certain stylistic modes are just as useful as songs like “Ageless Beauty” that hew closely to ideas already adequately mapped out by themselves and others.

It’s a cliché by now and it was a cliché back when people began to formally talk about music; but the thrill of a tightly and beautifully constructed pop song is undeniable. Stars have undertaken this project along with many of the other bands on the Arts and Crafts label and have come out the other side rarely altering the template, but always tweaking it enough to make it sound like the group is tapping into something altogether ageless. With Set Yourself On Fire, the group has once tapped the well and bottled up magic.

STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM'S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: NOVEMBER 29 - DECEMBER 5, 2004



Reviewed by: Charles Merwin
Reviewed on: 2004-11-29
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