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Stars
Sad Robots
Arts & Crafts, 2008

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To quote the immortal Jim Anchower of the Onion fame, "Hola, amigos. I know it's been a long time since I rapped at ya, but things have been getting plenty hairy around here." To be sure, i've heard lots of fantastic music since writing about my fondness for the Horrors ... i just haven't been able to motivate myself to write anything about it. But a scant two days ago i heard something that inspired me to do just that. Having picked up the digitally released new Stars ep Sad Robots, i was struck immediately by both the somber beauty of Torquil Campbell's latest set of compositions as well as the aptness of the title. I've been increasingly impressed by Stars, from the time Set Yourself On Fire took my heart through the more complex but nonetheless captivating pop of their recent album In Our Bedroom After The War. The opening song of their latest work, "Maintenance Hall, 4am", seems appropriately titled after pondering on it while listening to the song. A simple piano riff plays over a wash of electronic noise, with occasional digitized voices interjecting digital sentiments. The theme of the ep is evident in its title, and the introductory track sets the tone of a robot wallowing in solitude in the repair bay early in the morning. The instrumental opener segues into a "A Thread Cut With A Knife", demonstrating the kind of continual growth Torquil and co. have undergone over the last few years. This is a Canadian collective to rival the talent and brilliance of their labelmates Broken Social Scene. The piano is the instrument of choice on the ep, and "Thread" opens with an even softer piano piece, soon accompanied by a thumping bass drum rhythm and more lovely synthesized backing music. Torquil soon enters, with accompaniment by Amy Millan: "It was a cold and angry sky above, when he decided he was through with love". The chorus breaks into a screaming synth, almost in the style of Mogwai. "Undertow" is a bit more of a traditional Stars song, sung by Amy. The entire ep has a beautiful sadness to it, entirely enthralling and dragging you down with it. More brooding electronics open "Going, Going, Gone", perhaps the most New Ordery sounding thing i've ever heard from Stars despite the synth pop pioneers being a common reference point when discussing the band. The emotional highlight of the ep is undoubtedly "14 Forever", accurately described in early ep reviews as a classic Stars track. A kind of Yo La Tengo piano piece plays over a poppy drum track (think "Mr. Tough"), while Torquil examines the relationship between performer and audience. This is a popular theme in indie music lately, with Los Campesinos! also analyzing the life of the indie kid in "You! Me! Dancing!". Torquil assesses the situation as someone singing to the masses of youth, and both he and the audience rely on each other to preserve their vitality. This message is delivered over what is among the most resonant melodies Stars have produced. Amy and Torquil employ their alternating lyrics to supreme effect, while my heart breaks listening to Torquil croon "keep me beside you, 'cause it's been too long now, i'm 14 forever so don't leave me alone". The title track "Sad Robot" ends a mesmerizing 22 minutes of music with more beeps and electronics. A plucked guitar repeats while Amy sings (to the best of my French understanding) "j'ai peur que j'avais lumiere ce soir" (i'm afraid because i have light tonight)". An ep to vault Stars to the front of the indie scene, if they weren't there already, and to make me more impatient for future albums and tours.

ten thousand drunken kids in a field canít be wrong
the song must be beautiful or they wouldnít sing along
and if sometimes the kids all seem a little sad
itís Ďcause they say goodbye to the youth they think they had

i see it in your eyes, you're sick of me lying
i wanna tell the truth but iím afraid that youíll leave
i sing like a child to keep me from dying
iím 14 forever if i make you believe

 

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