Among the most dependable Canadian indie-rock institutions of the post-millennial era, Stars are just as easily to be taken for granted at this point as they are to be appreciated. What was most astonishing about the band when they landed their critical and popular smash with their third album, Set Yourself on Fire, a decade ago, is how fresh their sound was. Inverting the experimental-noise-to-pop-melody ratio of early collaborators Broken Social Scene, Stars made a record that bounded seamlessly from the blissed-out electronica of its title track and the gorgeous shoegaze-pop of "Ageless Beauty" all the way to the gnarled post-punk fury of "He Lied About Death."
Subsequent albums diluted the band's sonic approach somewhat, leaning increasingly on the strength of its two vocalists — Torquil Campbell's unironically melodramatic croon, Amy Millan's warm, soothing husk — to guide their increasingly florid compositions. If this curbing of their earlier erratic streak has meant that the band have yet to produce a second all-out masterpiece on the level of their most beloved record, Stars have made up for this by maintaining a particularly comforting reliability.
It is on that level that new album No One is Lost is the most consistently satisfying Stars record since 2007's largely underestimated In Our Bedroom After the War. Only once does the band attempt to verge outside of their now firmly established boundaries, adding a low-key approximation of Guetta-esque rave synths to the title track (the effects are predictably ghastly). Fortunately, for the other ten songs here, the band understands the value of formula, adding nothing more outrageous than a New Order-y guitar bounce to the typically buoyant "Are You OK" or a hint of twang to the elegant "Look Away."
Otherwise, the band sticks firmly to their policy of alternating tuneful slices of power-pop like "Movie Score" with ornate ballads like "Turn it Up" and "No Better Place," all swathed in their usual New Wave glow and adorned with their recurring lyrical concerns of romance and nostalgia. Seven albums in, Stars may not have very much left in the way of surprises, but the subtle pleasures of these songs offer considerable rewards to those of us who have stuck with them. (ATO)