Stars The North

StarsThe North
At times on Stars' new record, The North, you can practically see the day-glow scrunchie in Amy Millan's hair and the acid wash of Torquil Campbell's Canadian tuxedo. It's not just the '80s that have come back to haunt our dynamic duo, it's Debbie Gibson/Tiffany mall pop. But when the band keep these embellishments and ornamentations to a minimum, the songs soar in fantastically familiar, and occasionally genuinely surprising, ways. As with every Stars record, there's a surplus of exquisite beauty. "Through the Mines" has a lustrous quality and bursts of aggression that elevate sweetly sad lines like, "Quick on the draw/We'll fight 'til we're raw." "Do You Want to Die Together?," which could be a prequel to, arguably, the band's best song ever, "Your Ex-Lover is Dead," kicks off with a cute doo-wop-inspired intro and then morphs into something packed with dissonance and tension. "Walls" weaves its way through so many different worlds; it's a short film of a song with incredible atmospherics from the pulsing bass, horn flares and crisp drums. "The 400" is an inspired number: simple, devastating and full of yearning. When they give in and go full mall pop, well, that's when things go north, as it were. Opening track "Theory of Relativity" suffers from this, as does "Progress," which starts off promisingly, but the band keep adding more, more, more until the song collapses in on itself. But when Stars strike the right balance between subtle and saturated, when they refrain from drowning their songs in "Look, ma, more synth!," they reveal they're still capable of surprising their fans and stretching themselves creatively. The North isn't Stars burning their brightest, but they're a long ways away from flickering out. (Soft Revolution)