Montreal's Stars walk a fine line between the cinematic and the melodramatic, quite often (intentionally, one might suspect) blurring that line along their way in search of perfect chamber pop bliss. The band's new record, In Our Bedroom After The War, is certainly no exception. (As an aside, the record, set to be released next month, was made available via paid download only four days after it was mastered in an effort to thwart those nasty internet traders -- you know who you are).
As the title perhaps suggests, In Our Bedroom plays like a song cycle about battles, more often of the between-the-sheets variety than the in-the-streets kind. The songs are quite theatrical in nature, and could easily provide the soundtrack to some hip Off-Broadway show. As such, they are artfully constructed and arranged, with a primary basis in keyboard and piano structures, and peopled with interesting characters. Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell ably provide the thespian-inspired lead vocals, most often in tandem and neatly juxtaposed against each other, both within songs (e.g., her pleading desperation, his icy heartlessness in "Personal") and between songs (e.g., his defeated pessimist in "Life 2: The Unhappy Ending," her hopeful optimism in "Today Will Be Better, I Swear").
Stars seem to march to the beat of their own drummer, so to speak, although the influences are there. The chorus of the great "The Ghost of Genova Heights" would be at home in an '80s hit by someone like Level 42, while the title track and the aforementioned "Life 2" have Prefab Sprout written all over them. And one of the record's highlights, "Take Me To The Riot," is possibly the best Morrissey song I've heard in years. (I highly recommend that you Moz-heads seek it out).
Most of all, the record, in its entirety, feels like a cohesive set piece, served best by listening all the way through. It is sophisticated music, though treacly in some places ("Barricade"), charming in others ("My Favorite Book"), but ultimately, solid pop fare. Although technically "indie" I suppose, Stars come off more like a night at the theater than the stuff of college radio. Much more than a lovely diversion, In Our Bedroom After The War is among the most original and interesting records of the year.
MP3: Stars - "The Night Starts Here" from In Our Bedroom After The War
Stars' previous album, Set Yourself On Fire, comes highly recommended as well.
MP3: Stars - "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" from Set Yourself On Fire