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Stars: After the War

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: Oct. 31, 2007

w/ Magnet
Sunday, Nov. 4,
9 p.m.
729 No. 14th St.

Is "theatrical" the right word to describe the tone of the new album by Montreal band Stars, In Our Bedroom After the War?

Take the song "Personals," a dialogue between two strangers connecting through a series of personal ads. One is voiced by Torquil Campbell, the other, by Amy Millan. They sing in whispered voices of people alone in dark rooms illuminated by computer tubes and loneliness. His, a hollow blank that borders on predator; hers, lost in emotional recovery and insecurity. Their relationship lasts four minutes, but in that time, the depth of their lives is brought into complete focus by music that is yearning and ominous.

There's "Barricade," a piano-driven anthem about two violence-prone soccer hoodlums who, in the midst of mayhem, fall in love (or at least one of them does). "In Harmony Street we beat a man, just for standing there / I held my breath as I watched you swing, Then run your fingers through your hair," Campbell sings as if belting out a timeless torch song instead of darkly ironic ballad.

Then there's "Life 2: The Unhappy Ending," a track dripping in pure film noir. The song is a story of a blood crime, a midnight run, a car chase, a hide-out, a stake-out, and presumably an unhappy ending. It's brought to life scene by scene, each stage direction and description drawn in shades of regret.

Perhaps more than any other Stars album, In Our Bedroom… tells stories that take listeners inside different worlds one song at a time. Campbell has described the record as turning the darkest possible situation into a beautiful pop song. "If you could make horror movies that were like love stories, that would be my ultimate genre," he said.




But "theatrical'? Campbell doesn't think so.

"I don't know what that words means," he said from a tour stop in Atlanta. "We wanted to find the storytelling aspect of the band and make sure we were creating songs that existed in their own individual worlds, like little films. There was an intention to up the ante on the narrative side, and to write music that felt big, but there was no conscious decision to make it more theatrical. Certainly there's that aspect of the band because we do put up a fourth wall. We do talk through characters."

Not every song on In Our Bedroom… is an exercise in storytelling. Since the band formed in 2001, Stars has become renowned for its unique style of gorgeous indie pop that's been compared to such acts as Morrissey, The Sundays and Saint Etienne. Perhaps a better comparison would be to the other bands that make up the currently very hot Canadian indie music scene. Millan and bassist/guitarist Evan Cranley also are members of Broken Social Scene, a band that spawned indie darling Feist. All three acts are signed to Toronto label Arts & Crafts, and along with bands like, Arcade Fire, New Pornographers, Metric and Wolf Parade, are the driving force behind the new Canadian music explosion.

Campbell said the resurgence of Canadian pop is partially the product of a program called FACTOR -- Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent On Records. Founded in 1982, the private non-profit organization's mandate is to offer grants and loans that allow bands to record albums, tour and market themselves.

The program "gave people breathing room," Campbell said. "There are so many good bands that pack it up after a few years when the real world catches up with them. They couldn't keep fighting the fight. That extra cash allowed people to go on tour in a real way. That was a big part of it."

Campbell also pointed out that Canada is beginning to come out from under the cultural shadow of the United States, thanks in part to the amount of immigration over the last 20 or 30 years. "There's so much immigration that (Canada's) become much more cosmopolitan, and different voices are being heard throughout the country," Campbell said.

But maybe the most important factor is the work and dedication by the artists themselves. "It's like what's happened in Omaha," Campbell said. "There are a few people working hard along with some talented kids, and the press got behind it. There are places that have these moments, and then that energy goes on to somewhere else. Canada was ripe for that moment, in a way."

With that in mind, Campbell said the band is looking forward to playing in Omaha. "To be honest with you, we're all kind of nervous," he said. "There are so many great bands and such a great scene there. You guys have created something really independent and vital; it mirrors what happened in Montreal."

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Published in The Omaha Reader Nov. 1, 2007. Copyright 2007 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.







"It's like what's happened in Omaha. There are a few people working hard along with some talented kids, and the press got behind it."