Archive for the ‘Stars’ Category

[ATTENDED: December 3, 2022] Stars

I have been a fan of Stars since about 2004.  I have wanted to see them for a really long time.  I thought I’d be able to see them last year on their Christmas Together Tour.  It was at LPR in New York (which is just too much of a pain to get to) and at World Cafe Live.  But it happened to be on the same night as our holiday party, so I couldn’t swing it.  I never guessed they’d do another one.  So this year I made sure to get tickets and schedule our party around this show.

The show came around and it was cold and I didn’t really feel like going out, but oh I wanted to see them.  So I drove out to Philly.

Turned out there was a wedding in the Fillmore main floor so parking was free (yes!).  I even wound up talking to some nice people around me and we had an enjoyable time waiting for the band.  There was a little girl (maybe ten) who was bouncing with excitement over seeing Amy Millan.  She couldn’t wait to meet her and get her autograph. I was so curious about this!  How did this little girl get excited about this (relatively) obscure band from Montreal that sings about relationships and breakups? (I’ll never know). (more…)

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[DID NOT ATTEND: December 11, 2021] Stars / Kevin Devine

Back The Montreal band Stars, whom I loved in the early 2000s and would love to see live, announced plans to play some Christmas shows in New York.  I knew I couldn’t go–logistically there was no way.

Then I saw that they also announced a show at World Cafe Live.  Yes!

But it was the same day as our holiday party.  There was no way I could get to this one either.  I held out hope that our party might end early, but again, the logistics were not in my favor.

Kevin Devine, whom I love and whom I have seen live a few times was opening.  I would love to see him again as well.  It really was a perfect bill.  But sometimes timing doesn’t work out.

So Stars, please come back to Philly or NJ.  I will cancel everything else for you.



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[DID NOT ATTEND: December 8 & 9, 2021] Stars / Shamir [was Lloyd Cole]

Back in the early 2000s Stars was one of my favorite bands.  They write clever, thoughtful pop with gorgeous harmonies from Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan.

Stars doesn’t come around all that often and I really wanted to see this tour.  When I heard that Lloyd Cole was opening, my mind was blown.  I didn’t Lloyd Cole was till making music–that’s pretty cool.

These shows were at Le Poisson Rouge which I learned last time I Went there, is a super duper pain in the ass for me to get to.  And these shows were midweek.  I just don’t know how I would have managed it.  So when they announced that they were going to play World Cafe in Philly, well that made everything all better.

It also transpired that Lloyd Cole had to cancel at the last minute.  He was replaced by Shamir, another artist I would love to see live.  But it just hasn’t happened yet.

So Stars, please don’t be gone for too long, I’d love to see you.  (Especially since your set was 24 songs!)



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silkSOUNDTRACK: STARS-Heart (2003).

stars I found out about Stars with their second album but I like their debut quite a lot too.  There’s a few songs that i don’t love, but overall the album is really solid.

The opening synths belie the beautiful guitar (and nice bass work) of “What the Snowman Learned About Love.”  Singer Torq’s voice is low and muted while other singer Amy Milan has gorgeous  harmony vocals.  “Elevator Love Later” features’ Milan on lead (for some verses)–the album really comes to life with this song.  It’s got a great chorus and a cool bass line that elevates the song above typical pop fare.

“Heart” has a melancholy piano riff (something Stars excel at) and some wonderfully poignant lyrics: “Sometimes the TV is like a lover, singing softly as you fall asleep.”  And yet it, once again, has a really catchy chorus (with lots of “All rights”).  “Woods” is mildly orchestral and has a plaintive vocal line and a sampled spoken word section (which I can’t identify).

“Death to Death” is one of my favorite Stars songs.  A slinky discoey song with Torq’s cool verses and Milan’s sultry “I am destroyer I am lover” chorus.  I love the sound of the next song (synthy flutes and the very clear guitar) that play throughout “The Vanishing” even though I don’t love the song.

“Romantic Comedy” surprises with its baritone guitar sound (instead of the sprightly synths), but the chorus is once again super catchy.  There’s some great lyrics in this song as well: “You’re not bad, but you were just badly raised,” and the chorus “don’t walk away then turn and say I love you anyway.”  “Time Can Never Kill the True Heart” is a beautiful song with a lovely sentiment.  “Look Up” is a pretty Amy Milan sung song.  I love the way the chorus’ words don’t pause for breath even though the song itself is not very fast.  “Life Effect” is pretty song sung by Torq (I really like when the guitars come to the fore even though I think of Stars primarily as a synth band).

stars other“Don’t Be Afraid to Sing” is the final song on the album,.  It’s a simple ballad, and once again the bass line is great–nothing fancy but it’s a great melody behind the guitars and vocals.  It’s got a great ending of an album sentiment: “We all come to an end / And we all end together.”

There’s a “bonus” track on my version of the album (cleverly hidden about 20 seconds after the previous song).  It has a with a great hidden bonus track title–“The Comeback.”  It actually sounds perfect with the album–an instance where a bonus doesn’t really feel tacked on.  It’s a nice addition if you can’t get enough of the band.

Incidentally, the American version has the reddish cover above, while the original cover is this black and white one down here.

[READ: November 17, 2014] Silk

I enjoyed Mr Gwyn so much that I wanted to read more by Baricco.  And when I saw that many of his books are so short, it  was easy to grab them and devour them.

I didn’t know anything about Silk–somehow I missed it when it came out.  It was even made into a movie, so it must have been a big important book (and it was a huge best seller).  So imagine my surprise to see that the book is 91 pages and that each chapter is basically one page (sometimes half a page).   And Baricco creates this beautiful, taut story that is really compelling, in what is really only about 70 pages of text.

I’ve admired Baricco’s ability to write gorgeous novellas, and this must be where it all started (his earlier books are somewhat longer than this).  The fact that none of his stories are about similar things is also pretty amazing.

This story is about a Frenchman who makes his fortune buying silkworm eggs and the lengths and distances he is willing to travel for them.  But it is also about something much more poignant. (more…)

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gwynSOUNDTRACK: STARS-No One is Lost Tour EP (2014).

stars epStars are back with a new album and this downloadable 5 song EP.  There’s something about Stars’ aggressive pop sensibilities that I just love.  It’s the dual vocals, the big choruses and I’m sure to a certain degree it’s the darkness in the lyrics that compliment the poppy music so much.

The EP has five songs, “No One is Lost” and “From The Night” are from their new album.  “Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It” is from their previous album The North.  There’s also two exclusive tracks: “Blue Is The Colour” and “From The Night” (A Tribe Called Red Remix).

“From the Night” has simple, keyboard note-driven verses which are obliterated by the dancey and even discoey chorus.  Surprisingly at the 4 minute point, it adds a third fast part which segues back into the catchy chorus.  “No One is Lost” opens with Amy Milan speaking French before the keyboards wash in.  It has a slightly faster pace than their usual fare.  But despite the bouncy music in the chorus, we get the twisted lyric: “put your hands up coz everybody dies” (that’s Stars in a nutshell).

“Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It” is less dancey (perhaps less discoey sounding is more accurate).  It’s got a real Stars feel to it (when Milan comes in at the chorus it is really angelic), and showcases Stars’ previous album very well.

The two new songs include the Tribe Called Red remix of “From the Night.”  I’m not that big a fan of remixes, but this one is pretty good.  I like the way they stripped the big chorus of the music and left it spare–which makes their catchy vocals seem kind of sinister.  I actually expected a bit more of Tribe’s signature sound put into the song, but that’s not really what remixes are all about, so I guess it’s no real surprise they didn’t.

“Blue is the Colour” is a dark sounding song as well, until the chorus comes in with some poppy keyboards and slinky guitars.  It’s very electronic sounding which I love in contrast to Torquil’s mellow vocals.  But at 6 minutes long, this song has many sections up its sleeve, and the twist at 4 minutes really turns the song into something else, with an almost epic feel.

It’s a great sample of Stars more recent work.  This link takes you to WXPN from which you can download the EP from NoiseTrade.

[READ: November 5, 2014] Mr. Gwyn

I loved this book.  It has been one of my absolute favorite books in years.

The premise is fairly simple.  A successful writer (Mr. Gwyn) has had three books published to much acclaim and financial success.  But one day he wakes up and decides that he is done writing. He crafts a list of 50 things he will never do again, and one of them is write a book which he publishes in the newspaper.  His agent thinks it is a great marketing scheme, but Gwyn is quite serious.

Gwyn then disappears from society for a while.  Only his agent is able to fin him (Gwyn and the agent are very close).

After a series of small incidents, Gwyn’s agent tracks him down at the laundromat.  He has sent his new employee, a young woman named Rebecca, to give him a phone through which they can talk.  Rebecca is respectful and Gwyn is fascinated by her.  Over the next few months, he and his agent only communicate via Rebecca.

One day, in order to avoid a rain storm, Gwyn ducks into an art gallery.  He has never really understood art.  But he becomes fascinated with the portraits there.  And he decides that his new “job” is that he is going to create portraits with words.  He calls his new occupation, “copyist.”  Obviously his agent freaks out about his–no one even knows what “copyist” means.  But Gwyn is determined.

He spends the next few months getting ready–he rents a studio, buys furniture and specially ordered light bulbs.  And then he is ready to work.  But who will he his first portrait be? He finally settles on Rebecca–someone he knows a little and feels comfortable enough to ask to pose for him.  And this is where the story became fantastic. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STARS-Live at the Triple Door, July 8, 2010 (2010).

KEXP broadcast this concert from the Triple Door in Seattle  (they have a free feed of all of these great concerts from the Triple Door).  Stars are a great Montreal alternapop band.  They sing songs that are kind of downbeat and sad lyrically and yet gorgeous and poppy musically.

This show takes place on the day that their 2010 release, The Five Ghosts, came out.  I really like Stars although I wasn’t that excited by this disc, so I never picked it up.  And yet most of this set is from this album and I think the set is great, so maybe it’s time to pick up the album after all.

Torquil and Amy sing beautiful harmonies (and Amy’s voice is gorgeous on th e song she sings solo).

What’s a little confusing about this set is that they play 7 songs.  So it’s a short set.  And yet the Triple Door is a rock club and they say they’re playing later on that night as well.  So, maybe this is a n album release party?  Or a KEXP show?  Whatever, it’s still a good set.

The band has a relaxed and chatty attitude onstage, with Torquil claiming that the DJs at KEXP having “Serious taste” for playing their music.  The two singers have a disagreement about which song they’re going to play (Oh, it isn’t called “Fixed”?).  And there’s a funny moment when Amy says she was thinking about George Jones and his career being over and Torquil saying “Does anyone know what Amy is talking about”).  And Torquil, who has the gentlest voice (and is the most polite front man ever) curses during the last segment and then says, “I just swore on public radio.  That’s okay, Republicans don’t listen to it anyway they’re too but filling their hearts with hatred.”

Love it.

[READ: October 8, 2009] “A Speaking Engagement”

This story was fascinating to me because it was about a Canadian military lieutenant on leave. I can’t think of too many stories about the Canadian military (I’m sure there are many, I’ve just haven’t encountered them).

Paulie is home for six weeks on leave.  As part of his time home he gives speaking engagements to high schools and (on this date) to a senior center.  He has a slide show in which he shows the audience what they were doing in overseas–in this case helping the citizens with infrastructure.  He says the high school students and seniors react mostly the same way (respectfully) and ask a lot of the same questions, although the seniors never ask if he killed anyone.

On his way to the senior center (in full uniform) he runs into Amy, a girl from his high school class.  He always felt she was out of his league, but she seem genuinely excited to see him.  They chat briefly in the convenience store and make plans for later.

They have dinner later that week and catch up.  Amy tells what she’s been up to since school–not going to med school, having a baby by herself (with her mom’s help), starting her own care business and generally running around like crazy.  Paul talks a little about the army experience, but defers what he actually did there for “another date.”

That other date doesn’t come though because they go back to Amy’s house (her daughter is at her mother’s) for a nightcap.  Which leads to Paul staying the night.   (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STARS-Live at the 9:30 Club, Washington DC, October 20, 2007 (2007).

Thanks NPR for this unexpected concert.  Unexpected because Stars is a wonderful band but I think they’re largely unknown (I could be wrong about that, but it’s not like you hear them on the radio or anything). 

This show was during a tour for In Our Bedrooms After the War, which was one of the best albums of the year as far as I’m concerned.  

It’s an intimate album, with all kinds of styles in it: whispered confessions, dancey pop songs, synthy tracks and also some solid alternative rock.  The unifying theme for Stars is beautiful, often super catchy songs that are filled with melancholy and sadness (and occasionally, hope: “at least…the war is over”).  But the key to their beauty is the wonderful harmonies that the singers give us.

Musically the things that surprised me most during this show were the singers’ speaking voices.  Torquil Campbell’s speaking voice is quite a high register and yet his singing voice is low and soothing.  The opposite is true for the other singer, Amy Millan who has a kind of gruff peaking voice but whose singing voice soars to the heavens.  It’s fascinating.  Torquil is also a gushing frontman, thanking the audience so much for coming and even asking “Don’t your friends have bands that are playing whose shows you should be at right now?”  He also thanks Ben and the rest of Death Cab for Cutie for being so very nice to them.  A very nice chap it seems.

The bands sounds quite good live, but my only problem with the show is that as i mentioned, Stars’ music is very intimate, sometime whisper-quiet, and it doesn’t always translate very well in a live setting (even a relatively small club like the 9:30 Club).  Sometimes it feels like they’re singing too loudly to match the music.  Now, it’s entirely possibly that this doesn’t come across when you see them live, that this soundboard recording picks up every flaw. 

Despite that, there’s undeniable energy here and some really great moments where the bands switches direction at the drop of a hat.  And, overall, this is an excellent introduction to the wonder that is Stars’ music (or a big treat for established fans).

[READ: July 25, 2011] Five Dials 18

Five Dials 18 is unique in the history of the journal.  This entire issue is given over to the memory of SYBILLE BEDFORD.  It is written by ALIETTE MARTIN (there’s not even a Letter for the Editor).

Martin writes about Bedford’s love of wine and fine food.  It was pretty funny to read about her detailed love of meat after reading all of the vegetarianism promoted in the Five Dials news pages (Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals was just published by Hamish Hamilton). (more…)

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I learned about Kopecky Family Band from NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert.  When I investigated further, I found that I could download this EP for free. I compared their Tiny Desk show favorably to The Head and the Heart.  This earlier EP has a bit more punky edge to it (as their other stuff may as well–Tiny Desk doesn’t really lend towards punk).

And so this EP leads me to compare them more towards Stars.  But perhaps we’ll call them a more acoustic version of Stars.  There is some wonderfully intense musical construction on this EP, and the dynamic of the duel vocalists really bring great tensions.

This is a wonderful EP.  The strings belie the rather heavy chords  (especially on “Trainwreck”) and the harmonies throughout are really infectious.

[READ: June 30, 2011] “A Mouthful of Cut Glass”

I’ve really enjoyed Tessa Hadley’s recent stories in The New Yorker.  So I decided to go back through their archives and read the other stories of hers that they have published.  It turns out that she has been published in the New Yorker since 2002.  But many of the earlier stories were collected in her previous collection which I’ll read one of these days.  But rather, I started with the first ones that have yet to be collected.

“A Mouthful of Cut Glass” is a conflation of two expressions, neither of which I was familiar with: “talking through a mouth full of plums” and “an accent like cut glass.”  The malaprop came from the protagonist’s boyfriends’ mother.  And yet, I say protagonist as if Shiela is the real protagonist.  The story quite clearly opens with Neil.

In 1952 Neil was born into a very poor household.  But over the years, he was able to rise above his sattion and become a successful University student.  It was at University that Neil met Sheila.  Sheila grew up in a vicar’s house with a gaggle of brothers and sisters.  The two of them hit it off very well and began a serious relationship. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STARS-Tiny Desk Concert #108 (February 3, 2011).

Stars are a wonderful Canadian band who play pop songs with a very dark undercurrent.  They’re the kind of band that’s so easy to sing along to until you realize just what you’re singing.

This is the shortest Tiny Desk show that I’ve heard so far–it’s barely ten minutes in total.  The performers are singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell with an acoustic guitar accompaniment.  And they sound wonderful.

They play two songs from their newest album The Five Ghosts (which I have only streamed online and have to admit I didn’t love as much as their earlier discs).  The songs sound wonderfully impassioned in this strip down format.  (Perhaps I didn’t give Ghosts a fair listen).  They also play one old, classic song, “Your Ex-Lover is Dead” which sounds great as well.

It’s a nice little dose of unplugged Stars.

[READ: March 17, 2011] “What He Saw”

This was a very short (less than three pages) story and the whole process seemed to be so effortless, that I wound up being disappointed by it.

It’s a very simple story of a couple on vacation.  They have a fight (again) and she storms off the beach into the water leaving Gus by himself with his sketches (he’s an artist).  She swims out as far as she can–to the rope that cordons off the yachts that are docked there.

When she reaches the rope, she sees a couple on a buoy by the boats.  She swims to the couple and starts chatting.  She learns a bit about them and then sees that not only is she topless (it is Europe after all), but that they are both bottomless as well.  She has clearly interrupted something, but they don’t seem to mind.  Indeed, the man seems to be encouraging her to come closer to them. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STARS-In Our Bedroom, After the War (2007).

I listened to the latest Stars release on cbcradio3 (they had been streaming it there).  I liked it but I didn’t love it.  So I went back to the predecessor to see if I still liked Stars as much as I recalled liking them.

And I do, indeed.  The vocals are split between the gorgeous, delicate Amy Millan and the earnest Torquil Campbell.

“The Night Starts Here” is a beautiful track and “Take Me to the Riot” is a stellar, catchy song with a rousing chorus.

In fact, the disc plays nicely back and forth with dancey tracks (like the discoey “My Favourite Book”) and more delicate tracks (like the delightful “Midnight Coward”.)

“The Ghost of Genova Heights” sounds not unlike Prefab Sprout (with another dioscoey sound).  While “Personal” is sad song about Personal ads (or the people in them, anyhow).  It’s the most downbeat song on the disc, and it acts as a nice breather for what’s to come.

There are a couple of simple piano songs, like “Barricade” which veers towards over the topness, but stays on the good side of it.

“Window Bird” has a great surprise twist in: after some delicate “forget, forget” whispers, a rocking bridge pushes its way in.  The disc ends with the almost closer: “Today Will Be Better I Swear,” which, with its musical diminutions would make an excellent end to the disc.  Although the closing song (the title track), makes for an excellent coda.

The Stars folk know their way around a delicate and catchy melody.  And their lyrics are strong too.  This is definitely a favorite disc of the last few years, even if, as Sarah points out, it’s not as rocking as I normally like.

I’ll probably check out The Five Ghosts, but I fear it will be hard to live up to this disc.

[READ: July 31, 2010] “The Dredgman’s Revelation”

Karen Russel is another of The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40.  And this is a story that I wouldn’t normally read.  (I don’t have much of an affinity for depression-era fiction).  So I’m glad I said I would read all of these authors, as it exposed me to something new.

This story is about Louis Thanksgiving Auschenbliss.  Louis was born in a foundling’s hospital.  The story of his birth and the origin of his name are very enjoyable.  In fact, I would have wanted to read the story more if it started with this segment, rather than the stuff about the dredgeman (although I admit that the placement works much better dramatically).

Louis was eventually adopted by the Auschenbliss family, who treated him as if he was worse than an animal.  He was forced to do chores with virtually no rest for most of his young life.  But Louis never complained, he did what he was made to do, despite the abuses.  Until he’d had enough.  And then he left.

He found work as a Dredgeman in a Florida swamp.  The Model Land Company was digging a canal, and Louis was delighted to find work, even if it was work that every other man hated.  Because of Louis’ terrible family, he felt that anything, even dredging, was better than what he had been through.  And even though the crew thought he was weird for being so happy, he felt a kind of bond with them.

And so Louis is sad when the job ends.  But he quickly finds work with another company in an even more depressing, bug infested swamp.  The people aren’t as nice, but he’s still happy.


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