Album: The North
Genre: Indie, Indie-Pop, Dance
Label: ATO Records
In terms of music, I can sort of remember Canada always being the butt of all the industry jokes. With the spotlight shining on products like Alanis Morissette, Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, Barenaked Ladies, and Sarah McLachlan, the sample size making the airwaves in The States has never seemed to be a fair indication of the actual depth and talent simmering in the music scene to the North. Stars (and joint All-Star clusterfuck project Broken Social Scene) is a perfect example of Canada at its best. No band in the industry has their shit together and as tightly crafted as Stars. Their secondary riffs are tighter than most people’s spotlight hooks. Their lyrics balance a very complex art of being charming and approachable while remaining deep and complex at the same time. They are peanut butter and jelly. They are the cake that you can eat too. They are all the clichés you’re told not to write as a journalist but can’t avoid because somehow they’re all true.
The North, Stars latest effort, does not deviate from this path. Laced with addicting synth based pop-tracks that would make John Hughes proud, the band sends listeners shaking their ass and pondering their existence. Seriously, Stars is like a dance party in your Intro to Psych class.
“The Theory of Relativity” kicks the album off with a space aged, sci-fi dance sound. The synths flutter in and out of the mix, placed over a drum machine time piece. From the very start it is a struggle not to sway your body to the groove of the track. This theme resonates through the whole of the album, showing itself in tracks like “Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It” and “Progress.” Putting forth the expectation that happy-go-lucky, dance floor emotions will pour from the headphones, listeners have not only managed to purchase an album when shopping for The North, they added a rave to their cart. In that indie-dance, Breakfast Club, 1980’s throwback kind of way, the band would do well on the road with the like of M83 or Chairlift. In that, the indie scene is set up flawlessly for them.
However, Stars refuses to back themselves into the “I want my MTV” corner. Allowing room for other angles, the band shoves beautifully constructed and candidly written tracks like “The 400” which highlights the layers of talent this band possesses. Steadfast in their attention to details and descriptions, the flawless vocals of both Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan compose plots that most authors spend their lives yearning to pen. The two fit together like soul mates, blending and twisting their vocals together in a way that would seem like fate. Their playful interactions and heartfelt conversations are on the level of Johnny Cash and June Carter. In a musical sense, their interactions convey the equivalent of love from afar. They are the banner example of what co-ed vocals should be. This is never more evident than on the album’s closing number “Walls.” Paired with the beautiful “The 400” the album’s last two tracks alone are worth the cost of admission. Consider the previous ten cuts the best added bonus you’ve ever gotten, because beginning-to-end this album is without flaw. To date, it is the best album I’ve heard in 2012. Expect it to be on many album-of-the-year lists.
And if that doesn’t make up for Shania Twain, nothing ever will.
Review written by: Joshua Hammond