The beginning is a little cliché (a beating heart), but thankfully it doesn’t go on long before the music is served. Stars, once again, delivers atmospheric, soaring electronica of slow- to medium-tempo, generally alternating between anthems and ballads. As usual, the best songs are sung by Amy Millan and not Torquil Campbell. For the most part, it’s a solid release, albeit unsurprising with a few exceptions. “Bitches in Tokyo,” from the title to the punky beat and the retro guitar riffs, could easily be a Blondie cover but for the fact that Millan shows greater vocal range on the smooth scale—but she is less likely than Debbie Harry to really belt one out. And that’s the real problem I’ve always had with Stars—they never seem to stretch, to push themselves beyond their comfort zone of shoegazer. Nevertheless, “Bitches” alone is worth the price of the album, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s a lot more good stuff here.
“The Night Starts Here,” the first proper song on the record, is classic Stars. Millan and Campbell trade verses about relationships, the music builds to an edge, on the chorus they harmonize, and the fade out is sprinkled with beeps and switches. It’s a radio-friendly, ready made hit. “The Ghost of Genova Heights” is another standout—Campbell delivers his best vocal performance on the album (and possibly of his career), and the beat changes to Scissor Sisters disco, providing a nice change of pace from the overall shoegazing on the album. Unfortunately, there are a few too many ordinary tracks to rank this as one of their best releases ever, especially if you’ve already heard several albums worth of the same type of songs. But hardcore fans and first-time listeners should enjoy this release, as will indie romantics who also enjoy The Postal Service (and maybe even Hall and Oates).
But the good tunes aren’t even the best thing about this album: Goody don’t got it. The record, in conjunction with the label (indie Arts & Crafts) digitally released the album early to try to fight leaks. You can buy the advance at emusic, for example, but you can’t buy it Sam Goody, Best Buy, etc. The label announced the release by asking “What’s the difference between a writer for a big glossy music magazine and a student writing about their favorite band on their blog? What differentiates a commercial radio station from someone adding a song to their lastfm channel? or their myspace?”
So, go buy the album digitally. You’ll be supporting a good band and label, getting some good tunes, and telling the industry that we’ll spend money even if songs are available on the internet (and believe me, if you want the entire Stars album for free you can find every track by hunting through the blogosphere). If you, my readers, believe in what we’re all a part of, then this is the best example of a hopeful future.