An album rich in storytelling and atmosphere, warm beneath its chilly edges.
Jude Clarke 2012
For their sixth album, Toronto’s Stars set out to make a record about “here… where we live”, to “tell Northern stories”. The aptly titled result sees the band producing a set that is rich with a sense of storytelling, sentiment and atmosphere, warm beneath its songs’ occasionally chilly edges.
The North sees Stars in philosophical bent, ruminating beneath the autobiographical vignettes of “total f***ing alcoholic”s and the “dude who sold us ecstasy” on the connections between madness and freedom (The Theory of Relativity).
Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It lays out what sounds like a complete outlook on life (“The only way to last / And the only way to live it…”). Crucially, it sets its aphorisms to an upbeat, euphoric backing that makes it the album’s clear standout, underlining and concentrating its inspirational message.
This is an album that has stories to tell, boosted with shots of electronica (Progress, Walls) and Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan’s duelling vocals (Do You Want to Die Together?, The Loose Ends Will Make Knots). It possesses a chilly sense of place, as evoked in Progress (“Winter trees so bare”) and The 400 (“Turn the heat on early and be cold when I’m through”).
Despite occasional lapses into blandness – the too-safe title track, the poor Springsteen approximations of The Loose Ends… – the band mostly manages to maintain a sense that there is much warmth and heart to be found beneath Canada’s winter snows.
Although A Song is a Weapon bares its teeth – the title is inspired by Woody Guthrie’s famous inscription on his guitar, “this machine kills fascists” – Through the Mines and Lights Changing Colour are soft and sweetly uplifting.
The gentle, wry, and affectionate nostalgia of the album closer Walls (“We were children / We danced to Hand in Glove”) is both touching and amusing. Part-cynical, part-sentimental, it’s a fitting end to this thoughtful and evocative release.