February 23, 2004

Stars "Heart"

"I am Joseph and this is my heart."

It's addictive, that band introduction. Everybody I know who has heard Stars' new album Heart makes the same comment. It may seem a bit of a silly way to introduce a record, but it's a nice little ice-breaker. Because of the recent press focus on the Toronto music scene, Stars' visibility has been increased (in fact, Amy Milan's membership in Broken Social Scene has been one of Heart's selling points), but it's best to remember that Stars was together well before the hype spotlight came around, having released an album and a few EP's since 2001. Milan and Campbell also released a most promising EP together as Memphis--who will soon release their debut album.

So it's good that Stars have an increased visability, because they deserve it. Their debut album Nightsongs was a nice--though not particularly spectacular--slice of indie-pop, indebted to bands as Momus, Magnetic Fields and Saint Etienne. In the past, Torquil Campbell has been accused of having a Stephin Merritt fixation, but Heart finds a Campbell who's clearly worked through his inspiration. Also gone are the obvious Momusisms that popped up every now and then; now, it's all jazz-pop, new-wave and a little bit of techno-pop, but thankfully they play around with all of these styles enough to not be devoted to one particular sound.

And how mature they sound, too! From the opening "What The Snowman Learned About Love," it's clear that they've spent a lot of time in the studio; because this song--and the rest of Heart--sounds as if it's the product of a big budget production circa 1986. No, no more of that whole lo-fi indie ghetto for Stars, thank goodness. "Elevator Love Letter"--with an intro that sounds a little bit like Coldplay's "Yellow"--highlight the best part of Heart: the transformation of Amy Milan into a pop diva. While Torquil has also improved as a singer, it is Milan who captures the..erm...heart of the listener. No matter if she's singing lead a breathy jazz-pop song or providing a countervocal on a pulsing dance number ("Death to Death"), Milan's the album's main attraction.

Heart is an impressive little record; it says much about the band's talents when they have the confidence to regulate a really awesome song to 'secret bonus track' status. Though I'm a bit cautious of local scenes being hyped to mediocrity, I'm glad that Toronto's getting the credit it deserves, and for delivering Stars from obscurity. One of the nicest records I've heard all year; it's lovely, it's lush, it's friendly, it's pop, and, after repeated listens, you'll find it in your heart.

---Joseph Kyle

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