Canadian stars that connect with us

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Written by Lauren Dobbie

On November 29, I went to see Toronto’s own Stars perform at the Phoenix concert theatre. Their most recent album “In Our Bedroom After the War” and their live show got me to thinking about how many artists’ “bedrooms” I had experienced—how many artists produce music that really lets their audience tap in to their minds and be engaged in their personal stories? Many artists take on first person perspectives based on personal and fictional experiences, creating narratives that can be really quite enchanting. My two personal favourite story-telling artists are Sarah Slean and Kate Bush and after the Stars show, I decided to give them a very safe place in my top three.

From “Elevator Love Letter” off 2003’s “Heart”, lead singer Torquil Campbell proclaims “I’m so hot for the rich girl” in response to Amy Milan’s opening line “I’m so hard for a rich girl”, which is a simple insight into the dual-perspective and conversational lyrics set up in their songs. The characters that these two play are believable and invite their audiences into another life within their music. The best part is that this feeling gets reinforced the more Stars you listen to, because the characters are consistent and you feel as though you’ve gotten to know them. Campbell’s facial expressions even change from song to song; there isn’t a trace of the perpetual rock star, squinted eyes and over-worked facial muscles that I find typical of artists removed from their music. In “Reunion” (from 2005’s Set Yourself on Fire”) that Campbell actually smiled throughout which makes sense because it depicts two friends meeting up at a high school reunion and reliving some of the wonders of high school that so many people can attest to: “Seventeen and half alive/ Headlights illuminate the school/ Inhale the powder from the science class/ Yeah nearly dying felt so cool”. There is no better example of their emotional narration than “Your Ex-lover is Dead” also from “Set Yourself on Fire”. The alternating voices of Campbell and Milan weave the story of two ex-lovers meeting again through “a friend of a friend”. The use of first person and honest lyrics that clearly portray the situation without clouding metaphors let the audience experience what these two characters feel.

All artists would like to proclaim that their sound is “unique”, but I promise you—Stars are special. Their infectious rhythms make me air guitar when I’m by myself in my residence and I don’t air guitar. The way that Milan’s bittersweet voice acts as a lyrical amplifier (a term I invented for Milan’s voice) is incredible; her voice can give lyrics from songs like “Reunion” that “high school self-consciousness” by the reserved joy that she uses in her voice. She “amplifies” the lyrics so that they not only sound as they were supposed to but feel as they were intended. Perhaps it’s a personal bias because I play piano, but I love a band that can use keyboards to their rhythmic advantage. It gives Stars’ sound a sweetness juxtaposed by satisfying, harmonic guitar riffs. Their guitars are quite variable according to the song. Electric guitars are used sparingly in “Bitches in Tokyo” (from “In Our Bedroom After the War”) to accentuate the chorus, while acoustic ones are used to add a lull to “Elevator Love Letter” (from “Heart”). Occasional synthesized keyboarding us used carefully so as not to sound too mechanical, but adds a cool kaleidoscopic effect in “Today Will Be Better, I Swear!” (from “In Our Bedroom After the War”). Stars has a tight, refined sound that, as it should, compliments the lyrics and follows their stories.

I can definitely classify the Stars show in my top five out of the artists I’ve seen live. When they perform around Ontario again, make sure to check them out—they don’t even demand high ticket prices (mine was about $25.00). Until then, definitely give “Heart”, “Set Yourself on Fire”, and “In Our Bedroom After The War” a few spins—they’re my favourites! Also, check out Stars on-line: www.arts-crafts.ca/stars/

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