Toronto band Stars has spent years crafting albums full of emotion, politics and love. It’s now 2010, and the band have switched labels for The Five Ghosts, perhaps signaling a change in the band’s mentality, or at the very least, their dynamic sound. Signing to long-running emo label Vagrant may not have been a bad idea in regards to exposure, but would such exposure exist on the merit of the music alone?
“Dead Hearts” oddly begins with the feel of a melodic Death Cab for Cutie song, with the guitar barely trickling beneath the alternating vocals of Torq Campbell and Amy Millan. It’s a pleasant enough number, and one that newcomers to the band will surely enjoy, but it seems as the album begins to take flight that the group is already taking a rest. “Wasted” similarly seems uninspired, as if Stars opted to craft songs in the vein of friends Metric; the lyrics even bear the mark of Emily Haines.
By the time you encounter “I Died So I Could Haunt You” you’re looking for some sort of extreme contrast. The sonic barrage apparent on In Our Bedroom After the War (“Take Me to the Riot”) is no more. Sure, the thick bass line definitely adds a brooding quality, but as the song builds towards an unknown climax, listeners will find themselves a bit unfulfilled. Really, where are the drums here? But, perhaps this is the direction the band has chosen to head, so we shouldn’t knock them for treading new ground, that is until you arrive at “We Don’t Want Your Body.” Frankly, it’s a bit of a juvenile number, and where you want to find a bit of passion, you only get a little coy vocal from Millan. Oddly, none of it really seems too bad, but at this point, it all seems bad in comparison to other works by the group.
Luckily for the band, Amy Millan is just incredible. Lack of inspiration never seems to hold her back, as witnessed in “Changes.” She practically carries the song all on her own, with, as usual on The Five Ghosts, very minimal instrumentation shining through. You have to give her credit in the end, as her light definitely has a bit of shine to it, while the rest of this album seemingly fades into banality.
Still, there are some bright elements on this record to assure us all that they still have a knack for writing good hooks. “Passenger” has this catchy little moment during the chorus that appears as part electronic, part vocal, and for whatever reason, it just grabs the listener. On “How Much More” there’s a bit of a ringing guitar to go with another great vocal Millan performance. Back beats here give a little boost of energy to go along with it all, rounding it out to be one of the better tracks.
Not long ago I would have sworn by Stars, such was the quality of their back catalog, but The Five Ghosts just seems like an anomaly. It doesn’t seem like a record within the character of the group I’ve gotten (or we’ve) to know for the last ten years or so. It would be wrong to call it uninspired, but you could easily say that this is nowhere near the band’s best work to date. Hopefully, this is just a brief identity crisis, and one that will bring the band back stronger next go around.
Download: Stars – Wasted Daylight [MP3]