A Little Place in the Wilderness
tars’ last two albums have been fantastic; full of romance and heartbreak with every feeling blown up to the most dramatic, urgent dimensions by their rich arrangements. But dramatic and urgent are concepts a long way away from this second album by frontman Torquil Campbell’s other band. And, together with Amy Millan’s recent country bore, it now brings Stars to an unfortunate three for three on dud side project albums.
It\'s not that Campbell and Millan are nothing without each other, exactly. There are a handful of moments on A Little Place where it’s easy to imagine Millan sweeping in, not least on “In the Cinema Alone” where Campbell’s glum questioning begs for an answer, but generally she isn’t missed. Her presence couldn’t add much to a record this featureless anyway. Each gentle, near-terminally laidback song merges into the next, leaving little interesting to emerge and reach beyond the fluffily pedestrian. Guitars chime ponderously, strings slowly emote, and everything is layered in soft synth hum until it’s homogeneously pretty. The only real exception is lead single “Incredibly Drunk on Whiskey.” It maintains a certain hazy feel befitting its subject matter, but is propelled by an insistent, jazzy beat and has a wry humour that’s missing (or obscured) elsewhere.
Other standouts are difficult to pick. “I Dreamed We Fell Apart” opens things with a little more momentum at least, using choppy guitar behind minimal verses and a big wordless chorus. “A Ghost Story” aims for haunting and starts off quite promisingly, with some creepy imagery and mysterious figures stalking us in the snow. But the doubling up of whispered vocals and some more weeping strings can’t render its conclusion—Torquil will “follow you until the day that you’re a spirit too”—anything but underwhelming. “Swallows and Amazons” is the sort of drab instrumental that leaves you wanting three minutes of your life back, but—on the other hand—it might work as a sleep aid. “I’ll Do Whatever I Want” doesn’t fare much better for hooks, but its punchier rhythm and brass bursts are enough to at least feel like a Stars B-side. And that’s about it, for anything that leaves any impression at all beyond pleasant blandness at least.
It\'s hard to imagine anyone having the necessary time and patience to appreciate A Little Place’s slender and predictable virtues when there’s so much more compelling music out there. Hopefully that will include Stars’ next album.
Reviewed by: Iain Forrester
Reviewed on: 2006-09-29