WEB EXCLUSIVE: Stars light up indie-pop scene with third album

Ben Breier


Set Yourself On Fire

Arts and Crafts Records

Stater Rating: ***1/2

“Ladies and gentlemen, set yourself on fire!”

Montreal is the place to be for bands looking to find a thriving independent music scene. Successful acts to come out of Montreal include The Dears, and the indie rock poster children of the moment, The Arcade Fire.

Torquil Campbell and his band Stars obtained public funding through the Canadian government’s music fund for their third album, Set Yourself On Fire, which seems to be largely inspired by the work of Ibi Kaslik, a teacher and novelist out of the Montreal area.

The album begins with Amy Millan and Campbell singing on top of soft guitar and stunningly crisp violin on “Your Ex-Lover is Dead.” Those familiar with the indie pop licks of Pinback, Death Cab for Cutie, and Broken Social Scene (whose Evan Cranley plays percussion and guitar for Stars) will probably feel right at home. It’s completely whimsical and atmospheric, but the song captures more emotion than anything Ben Gibbard has ever laid his hands upon. It’s not to say that Gibbard is bad or anything, it’s just to say that Stars is quite good.

The title track, “Set Yourself On Fire,” swoops in with a few different synthesizer harmonies. This track brings about echoes of the Postal Service, but without some of the depressing overtones. If you aren’t smiling by the end of this track, I probably won’t like you, because it’s clear that you don’t have a soul.

Set Yourself On Fire is a storybook album, with lyrics providing powerful and vivid imagery all over the place. Millan generates some incredible poetry in many songs, with “Sleep Tonight” probably being the lyrical highlight of the album. The lines “neighborhoods will try to dream / while you and me we hold / and leans onto bodies slick and charged” manage to put new words, thoughts, and ideas to love. Powerful stuff.

“The First Five Times” is a comedic and charming little pop-jaunt that talks about some pretty wild and humorous sexual escapades. If one could single out a “best song” on this album, one would be hard-pressed to find a better one. Basslines and guitars in this song are incredibly punctual and fun. Simply put, this is what “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” should’ve sounded like.

Lyrical genius aside, Set Yourself On Fire contains some of the most addictive indie-pop songs ever created. Those looking for an album that perfectly describes what the genre sounds like would do well to pick up this album. Those looking for a book of poetry to read this summer would do better to pick this album up instead – the last time I checked, poetry didn’t come with some of the most memorable and heartwarming vocals in independent music today.

Highly recommended.

Contact general assignment reporter Ben Breier at [email protected].