Wednesday, 1 December 2010

REVIEW: Stars - The Five Ghosts

To date, the soft, swaying-in-the-breeze harmonies of Stars had passed me by. Other than a few tracks from In Our Bedroom After the War I had little experience of the Montreal-based group. That deficit has pushed right through to surplus status after spending a month or two with new long player, The Five Ghosts.

It should be noted immediately that this new material hovers proudly over the pop side of the indie/electro-pop border. Almost all the tracks, from the youthful laments on opener Dead Hearts to the penultimate pulse of How Much More, have a distinctly saccharine, almost child-like resonance to them. Though not necessarily a detraction, this does take some getting used to.

Where the aforementioned Dead Hearts winds around a little before showing its gleaming pop tones, the following duo wear their flamboyance proudly on their sleeves. Sparkling with a Notwist-esque synth sheen and sewn together with the smooth song of Amy Millan, the production is hyper-sharp and just stays on the pleasing side of polished. I Died So I Could Haunt You ups the ante still further, upping the tempo and adding the sugary male vocal of Torquil Campbell. It has elements of The New Pornographers fed through a laptop audio suite and comes off a little too cheesy as a result...turns out you can have too much icing on a cake.

Fixed sets things right again by focusing on Millan - who undoubtedly has the stronger vocal - over a galactic swirl of effects and beats. It's still spritely pop but with a much more palatable style. I Don't Want Your Body then melds the dual vocals much more effectively, propelled by a hooky loop that would have Little Boots smiling from ear to ear.

Latter day new wave is piped direct from Britain and into the contemplative veins of He Dreams He's Awake, while Changes is stripped and slowed down still further, providing one of the most exposed moments on The Five Ghosts.

By this point the album has been maturing nicely, moving from overwhelming synth-pop to affecting indietronica and sounding all the better for it. The Passenger feels like something of a plateau, then, as it cruises inoffensively by, not all that memorable. The Last Song Ever Written then lays out a grandiose concept in the most simple manner, belying the promise of its title with unadventurous beats and underwhelming vocals.

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With this wrong turn into unassuming filler very much taken, How Much More does it's level best to pull a handbrake turn with a driving beat and songbird vocals that echo the power of Asobi Seksu in full flight. It's the bright sunrise to the restless sleep induced by it's predecessors.

Winter Bones closes us out with a nod to the beautifull bare moments heard midway through the LP, exposing Millan's penetrating voice one last time for the highlight that it can be.

The Five Ghosts is a mixed effort, relying heavily on pop immediacy early on before settling into more natural sounding territory further in. There, Stars allow the melodies and fragility in their sound to hook the listener. Generally this is a much more satisfying experience, comprising the sections that are most affecting on the album. Though you might not need to keep spinning this one in its entirety, there are definitely more than enough shimmering moments   to be added to those upbeat playlists. 

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