Stars take their breakthrough album Set Yourself on Fire and hand it over to their friends for hit-and-miss remix treatment.
The remix album is always a cagey prospect, and in the era where downloading single songs is more popular than buying full albums (depending on who you talk to), it’s an increasingly risky endeavor. Are fans going to pay full price for a disc that is practically guaranteed to be a hit-and-miss listen? Wouldn’t they rather just download the mixes they prefer? Usually a remix album is a stopgap release between albums; that is no different here. With Amy Milian having spent the past year promoting her solo album, and with Torquil Campbell in the midst of promoting the sophomore effort by his side project Memphis, Do You Trust Your Friends at the very least will keep Stars on the indie music radar before the group’s next proper full-length, currently slated for fall of this year.
What made Set Yourself On Fire a breakthrough hit for Stars was their ability to couple complex emotions with baroque pop arrangements. Yet, for all the flashy song structures, the transcendent spirit and inescapably hummable pop would be nothing without the delicate voices of Milian and Campbell. Like the best singers of any genre, their voices are both frail and strong, vulnerable and elastic, allowing them to comfortably sail along with the group’s musical tides. Almost apologetically subtitled as “a collection of remixes, reinterpretations and reimaginings,” Do You Trust Your Friends hands over the tracks from Set Yourself On Fire to Stars’ colleagues. And, with no pun intended, the results are mixed.
It’s not surprising that the most successful reworkings all share similar traits and recognize Milian and Campbell as Stars’ core strength. The disc kicks off with Final Fantasy’s beautifully balletic take on “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead”. Gone are the drums and synths, replaced by plucked strings and a waltzing piano line. Though he dispenses with the more obvious peaks and valleys of the original, he retains the drama of the story and finds a different angle with which to approach it. That focus allows for an even more moving listening experience and a greater investment in the lyrics. Montag’s chopped version of “Set Yourself On Fire” is certainly more traditional but no less effective. With two minutes of the original excised, the propulsive verse is now garlanded in twinkling electronics, making the (still) exuberant chorus that much more electrifying. Indeed, it only goes to show how strong Stars' original works are that when they are stripped down to almost nothing they still stand up remarkably well. The Junior Boys pretty much remove everything recognizable from the original, sans the vocals, of “Sleep Tonight”, casting Milian in a Goldfrapp-esque light with wonderful results. Even Most Serene Republic’s swinging, acoustic porch song of “Ageless Beauty” is remarkable.
So, it’s hardly a shock that the tracks that don’t work are those that are unable to carefully navigate Stars’ songwriting framework. The Dears needlessly split “What I'm Trying to Say” into two parts and make it sound like they fooled around with every “neato” knob on the mixing board. The Stills' take on the awesome “Soft Revolution” is even more ridiculous, turning the song into one big, long wanky guitar solo. Young Galaxy obscure Milian’s voice with a lot of electronic nonsense but don’t really have a sense of what exactly they are trying to accomplish in doing so.
At very least, Do You Trust Your Friends will remind fans of why they fell in love with Stars in the first place. It reaffirms the qualities that makes them one of the best indie-rock groups going, while offering some engaging new takes on a select batch of songs from their last record. There is a homemade EP here worth of strong material, and that enough will tide over fans until their next full-length, but those with a more casual interest would do best to proceed with caution.