An entire album of love songs? It sounds like an awful stunt, one best executed by one of those fly-by-night teen pop acts of the late ‘90s, or Celine Dion, or worse. I’m talking about earnest love songs, at that—not Magnetic Fieldsy ironic fare or PJ Harvey-fied hate songs. The real deal, heart-in-mouth love song: a staple for all but the most esoteric and melancholy of musicians, becomes a curse when an album is crowded with them. Such a move is seen as a symbol of a band’s lack of creativity, or desperate commercialism, or both. Who would attempt such a feat?
Stars, that’s who. Heart, the latest offering from these Montreal-based indie pop heroes, is 11 songs about love. Though simple in concept and straightforward in delivery, Heart is anything but an attempt at formulaic songs for the sake of album sales. No, it’s a pretty field of poppy goodness, or a starry-eyed escape into the beautiful beyond. It is utterly listenable and endlessly sweet.
Heart is a much hookier and accessible album than their cult classic 2001 release, Nightsongs, but it remains faithful to their sonic forebears in St. Entienne, the Smiths, and New Order. Synthy but not snotty, Stars (Amy Milan, Chris Seligman, Torquil Campbell, and Evan Cranley) then and now set out to write tunes that are warm and catchy, with melty male/female vocal exchanges and gliding, embraceable melodic lines. The experience of listening to one of their albums in its entirety is almost eerily pleasant—the songs are nearly uniformly lovely, and fold into one another effortlessly, while maintaining their uniqueness. At the end of the album, you can’t help but feel a sort of dopey euphoria, like your belly’s full of warmed milk and your head, laughing gas.
Thus, dissecting the particular pearls of Heart does its overall effect an injustice, but I will offer a couple of highlights. The title track is a languid lullaby, matching easy male-sung verses with female chorus responses, tied up with lyrics like ribbons. “Death to Death”, the album’s “dark” track, is a minor chord-flecked pacer, with a wide, driving chorus and decadently theatrical lyrics. A taste: “A gypsy told my fortune and I told her hers / I said you’ll die in the mountains wrapped in silver furs / You’ll be looking for your lover in the midnight sun / And you’ll perish for your lover when the frost has begun”. “The Vanishing” struts on horns and glockenspiel and digital drum loops, vocals like angel whispers, melodies of moonlight. This song, like all the others, positively shines.
The name of this band is Stars, and for good reasons. Like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, like Garbo or Brando, in its own way this band is larger than life and legendary, untouchable and perfectly put together. And like twinkle-twinkle, like hearts & ____, these Stars are cosmic, otherworldly, beautiful, bright, energetic. All kinds of stars pull bodies into their orbits, and one listen to Heart and you’ll be forever enraptured in theirs.