Listening to Stars can be a very humanizing experience; it’s pop that will make you a little uncomfortable when you realize how much you like it. I’m not trying to say that they function like anything close to a guilty pleasure, but the jaune jeunesse put a lot of effort into avoiding conventional expression these days. Too often sincerity is roughly correlated to gaucherie, but Stars doesn’t care. Barricade, for example , is violence in a slow-motion of minor piano chords and phrases like “the love died, but the hate can’t fade.” Familiar yes, but never wincing because Torquil Campbell’s ardent uncertainty creates a satisfying tension. A tension that exists between the artifice we use to set ourselves apart and the common feelings that draw us together. The album is filled with characters trying to make themselves bigger, more important in one-hundred different ways: drugs, revenge, confessions, games, mutual parisitism, but the stronger trope is how an undercurrent of loneliness drives all of this.

In Our Bedroom After the War offers a refreshing form of musical atheism where songs take place in the confines of the real. We are not on dusty train tracks with semi-mystical geriatrics that populate alt-country, nor the hyper-cities consisting solely of cocktail parties, art openings, and alienation of most other Rock. Mostly we are in the space where life’s trivial props take on meanings just as large as escapist vistas: the space between lovers.Take Me To The Riot describes the anxiety of drug-fueled locomotion, but the buoy on a sea of cash and pills is still a human connection implied by the imperative title. Personal is a masterful duet between Campbell and Millan that is a back and forth straight from Craigslist: when a “wanted: single F, under 33” is found and then stood up the listener is just as lost as she is to say what happened. The story examines what happens when connections miss in a context that is eminently repeatable, but with an intelligence that keeps it out of the realm of novelty by begging the question, “is it you or me?” In the end it doesn’t matter because one outcome means we are as bad as our insecurities tell us we are, or that another’s will keep them from appreciating us.

This strikes at the drama of what is common and the futility of trying to transcend it. There is too much telling us that what we feel is not good enough, not sophisticated, and pop songs like those found on In Our Bedroom After the War are the perfect riposte. As a form they are supposed to be disposable. yet as a subject they make up what is perhaps most important. The best example is the opus Window Bird with its sinister bass hook that mimics a departing lover’s steps, and a late-game instrumental fist fight that reminds us who we’re dealing with, all set in contrast to Millan’s vulnerable whisper.

There’s an attractive self-awareness about the whole project. It might be a little embarrassing to like or get caught singing in the car, but there isn’t really a choice because it’s so compelling. An ethos that is captured in the band’s merchandise, specifically a badge proclaiming “stars is for fags.” A number among which this author is proud to be counted.

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