Not to be confused with the similarly titled new release by Matchbox 20, Stars‘ The North is yet another noteworthy signpost in the Canadian quintet’s vaunted discography. And like its celebrated ancestors, this album is nothing short of transfixing. The time-tested elements for a gripping Stars record are all there: the mellifluous tides of Amy Millan’s and Torquil Campbell’s vocals, the precocious dance of electronic and organic sounds, and the specter of lost youth phasing through each stanza. It’s a seamless stride in the “Soft Revolution” they embarked on in the early aughts.
For a band with such celestial characteristics — as though they’ve bottled starlight and conducted the twinkling to emit emotion as well as luminescence — the songs can be loaded with heavy political content. The North burns slowly, a hushed seething that aims to kill fascists without using the machinery of war as they do. George W. Bush has been a target of their loathing in the past; this time, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gets the smack down.
“Time can be a tyrant, but it’s always served you well,” Campbell gnashes at the career conservative in “A Song Is a Weapon.” The mid-tempo tune is akin to the nondescript gunman on the hill — no one would suspect its potency until it suddenly hits. Patrick McGee’s meek-to-menacing drums sound the revolt. Much in a similar way, throughout the album, Stars fight ugliness with serenity. In the pastoral pop number “Through the Mines,” Millan mews like a territorial kitten to bullies. “Us diamonds are tough,” she sings, taking up the banner for oppressed weirdoes everywhere. Her crew might seem timid, but they will tear their enemies apart viscerally.
Equipped with the firepower of a “Bizarre Love Triangle” riff, love proves the most potent secret in their arsenal. The dance-y, sincere “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It” encourages listeners to “Take the weakest thing in you and then beat the bastards with it.” Campbell turns out to be the best coach or school counselor you never had.
Amid the cheerleading of the outsider, the ever-present subject of romance gone awry haunts The North. A classic example of Campbell and Millan’s call and response arises in “Do You Want To Die Together?” It’s a Wall-of-Sound behemoth that rivals the Arcade Fire’s aural pomposity. The fire of that proposition flickers out, resulting in the accusatory closer, “Walls,” in which the singers argue in character over fuzzy instruments. With The North another pristine addition to Stars’ fantastic body of work, the Soft Revolution continues to rage on.