First Listen: Stars, 'The North'
The Montreal pop band Stars has always kept several sensibilities in rotation: Its arsenal includes fizzy pop, melancholy dance music, boy-girl ballads that flesh out the painful realities of modern romantic life, and anthems that address war, politics, gender dynamics and even the meaning of life. As such, Stars' albums tend to jump around a bit — rarely more so than on The North, the group's sixth full-length record, out Sept. 4.
Any given Stars fan ought to find something to like on The North, whether it's the springy pop-rock song "Backlines," the gorgeous balladry of "The 400," the over-the-top dramatics of "Do You Want to Die Together?" or the grandiose mission statement of "Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It." As always, singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell bring distinct personas to the equation: He's the sort of self-styled truth-teller who can be achingly open-hearted or a bit of a cad (or both), while she's winsome but practical, conveying wounded nobility without fully disguising a distinct edge. Throughout The North, Millan and Campbell sing together often, most effectively blending their voices in the lovely album-closer "Walls," in which she answers his "Do you love me?" with a heartbreaking "What am I supposed to say?"
With so many sounds and styles to run through, The North takes a little while to unpack, and its thematic intentions are generally a little cloudier than on its greatest albums, 2005's Set Yourself on Fire and 2007's In Our Bedroom After the War. But, like all the band's work to date, it rewards exploration with moments that alternately swoon, seethe, swing and paralyze. — Stephen Thompson