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on 10 September 2005
Have you ever wondered whether it is possible to fit all of your favourite musical styles and genres into one neat little package of an album? I have, and when I first heard this CD in full yesterday, I realised that this was the album that did it for me.
Instead of relying on the past or post-modern quirkiness to sell their music, Montreal's Stars seem to exude a warmth and guile that allows them to mould their work into a thinking person's guide to all that is important in post-2000 indie/alternative rock.
Ageless Beauty is the undoubted poetic gem, but the political statement of Celebration Guns, the closet theological ramifications of He Lied About Death, and the beautiful album closer Calendar Girl are all about stretching the boundaries of what sound and poetry can combine to create.
This is an absolute must-have album for anyone who has any interest in the future of rock and roll and its progenitors.
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on 4 September 2005
'Set Yourself on Fire' is going to be one of those albums that slips past most people. Unless you're listening to alternative music stations all day or watching MTV2 at 2 in the morning, there's little evidence of thier existence outside of a website (kind enough to let you listen to the album) and the CD itself.
What a lot of people are going to miss out on is a band who are effortlessly charming, easy to like and despite quite a large number of stumbles along the way, have produced an album that is easily worth buying.
If you're looking for a comparison as far as other bands go then they're probably closest to the Dears in that they're shamelessly grandiose and emotional but also in some of the songs structures and instrumentation.
Where Stars often trip up on 'Set Yourself...' is on the issues of vocals and verses. What quickly becomes apparent is that the band are great at writing choruses, but struggle from time to time with the verse of a song. This is why tracks like 'Ageless Beauty', 'Celebration Guns' and 'Your ex lover is dead' work so well as they avoid the traditional 'verse chorus verse' structure. However, even when the band flounder a little on the verse of a track like 'What I'm trying to say', they have the chorus to make the whole experience worthwhile.
The two voices are used to varying degrees of sucess. For a start Amy Millan's voice is beautiful, fragile and has a kind of warmth that makes you want to skip to the tracks that she takes the lead on. When her voice is too soft to carry off a chorus, fellow vocalist Torquil Campbell often gives it some weight but he never over powers her or vice versa it's in this little trick when the band sound strongest. Unfortunatley when left to the voals on his own, Campbell sometimes has an annoying habbit of over enunciating words and cramming sylables into lines (maybe not his fault) that make some songs reminiscent of The Beautiful South or Deacon Blue, how much this irritates you depends on your feelings towards the beautiful south or Deacon Blue. Personally, it bothers me quite a bit.
Having said that, the tunes are often so good that some minor vocal niggles are easily forgotten. Especially when some really impressive string arrangements, cute little electro bleeps and some genuinely heartfelt lyrics (although there's the odd clanger) are taken into account. While they trip up from time to time, Stars are impossible not to like.
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VINE VOICEon 4 September 2005
Any band that uses trumpet, trombone, French horn, glockenspiel, violin, viola, cello on top of the more traditional bass, guitars, keyboards etc are likely to grab my attention. It shows imagination, ideas and ambition. True it could be used as cover for a lack of any decent songs but thankfully Stars don't have that problem Indeed their problem is incorporating the wealth of ideas and textures into a coherent whole but Stars mange to virtuousically manipulate and manage virtually every song on Set Yourself On Fire into something to admire and more importantly enjoy.
There's quite a range of styles wedged into this albums thirteen tracks. First track "Your Ex Lover Is Dead" is a baroque chamber pop wonder with melancholy strings groaning like pensioners in a bus queue. The title track audaciously segues from a synth led arpeggio with anxious crisp percussion to a lilting piano led mood piece with spectral vocals. Then third track "Ageless Beauty" surprises by virtue of being straight up power pop. Superior power pop though, with some glorious creamy smooth vocals by Amy Millan. Co-vocalist Torquil Campbell takes over for "Reunion" whose lilting string led choral majesty recalls The Pernice Brothers at their very best. "The Big Fight" sees the two vocalist's duet on a not altogether unsuccessful foray into jazzier slouching ballad territory. This song too changes tone into an instrumental complete with squelches and trills of subtle electronica. "What I'm Trying to Say" is bright and breezy and would be slightly throwaway were it not for the added depth given by the brass led backing. "One More Night" uses the strings like great lost band Rex to achieve a rapturous splendour on its breakdown. "Sleep Tonite" uses sturdily strummed chords but is one of the less memorable tracks which can't be said of "The First Five Times" which although not that great a song moves from a pretty keyboard tune to a mammoth reverberating bass led epic. The discordant ""He Lied About Death" lays into Bush which is to be encouraged but is in truth a bit messy and takes their existential urgency too far. The Butthole Surfer like solo at the end is great though. The groaning strings return for "Celebration Guns", a stately poignant ballad while "Soft Revolution" throws everything at their disposal gleefully into the mix in a thrilling miasmic psychedelic frenzy. "Calendar Girl" is another duet and a very fine one too. A plangent refrain for two people lost to each other it descends through spry guitar notes and lugubrious strings to final choral grandeur.
So many of the songs on this excellent album metamorphoses from one thing to another and it seems, also taking into account the albums opening epigram "When there's nothing left to burn, you must set yourself on fire", that Stars are concerned with change. From beauty to despair and ugliness or vice versa ....I don't know. Or maybe it's nothing to do with the physical, more the spiritual but whatever this is an emphatic statement of what can be achieved in pop/ rock music if you refuse to cede to the conventional. That will never change and it, s why bands like Stars are so important.
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on 6 September 2005
Stars' second UK album (previous effort 'Heart' is also recommended) is a minor indie-pop masterpiece, boasting luscious tunes delivered by two genuinely beautiful voices in Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan. It works best when the two are together as characters, as on opener 'Your Ex-Lover Is Dead' which recalls 'Nothing Better' by the much-loved Postal Service. They're excellent lyricists, too, possessing the ability to hide dark themes under shiny pop songs, like on the pretty title track which contains the lyric, "In a cancer ward where the patients sit/Waiting patiently to die".
Two of Stars' members are also in experimental collective Broken Social Scene, so obviously they pitch in a few successful stabs at being different from the typical gentle indie strummers: tracks like 'What I'm Trying To Say' are propelled by stabby keyboards rather than guitars, and BSS bassist Evan Cranley constantly steals the show with the kind of catchy bassline that could be found on the Scene's classic album 'You Forgot It In People'. 'Set Yourself On Fire' could see Stars jostling with The Arcade Fire as the best band of the Montreal indie scene.
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on 25 July 2007
The reviews below are spot on. I don't know how I missed this the first time around. To my ear it sounds kind of like Arcade Fire being produced by My Bloody Valentine. It combines the soaring harmonies and melodies of the former with the blissed-out, fuzzy warmth of the latter. The stand-out tracks are probably Ageless Beauty and Your Ex-Lover, but there is no drop off in quality through the whole set. In fact, the songs work beautifully together, with a lot of different sounds and textures going on, while making a perfectly formed whole. In particular, the perfect boy/girl harmonie provide a common thread which links everything together. A really beautiful record.
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on 23 April 2006
This is a lovely album, in a sense of the word that is rarely used. I didn't find it through the OC, but bought it on something of a mad impulse, as it was recommended by a character in a webcomic (Shelley Winters). I'm glad I did. The opening track is utterly amazing, and you will be singing it for a long time. The other highlights are the unexpectedly dark 'One More night', the insanely catchy 'I am trying to say', and the anarchicly hopeful 'soft revolutio'. An album for dreamers who loudly refuse to completely grow up.
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on 11 July 2006
I stumbled across the promo video for 'Your ex lover is dead' online and fell in love with the song - I purchased the album straight away.

I'm not sure how this gem passed me by last year - beautiful arrangements, lyrics that tug on the heart strings. There are some gorgeous boy/girl harmonies on here - two voices that compliment one another really well.

The album maintains a high standard throughout and hints that Stars have a very bright future indeed.
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on 29 November 2005
My cousin and I were looking for a band to watch in Manchester England,my cousin suggested "Stars are playing the Roadhouse" I said "who?" as I really listien to stuff like Foo Fighters,Metallica,Red Hot Chilli Peppers,Everclear and Radiohead-pretty mainstream compared to Stars huh? Anyway not knowing what to expect my cousin who is a big indie fan persuaded me to go....after the show I was hooked,in one word "Amazing"
I rushed out to get the album and they among my favourite new bands. Beautiful alternating vocals,great arrangement of music and very original.
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on 22 April 2006
Its simple really...you HAVE GOT TO LISTEN to this breath of fresh air.

The lyrics are provoking,the talent is shining and the mood is just right.

A new meaning to the word "pop" (at last!)
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on 23 August 2005
This is a great album which gets more and more electronic and different as you listen through it. It starts off with some tracks which stick to a well trodden path and then starts veering downward and swirling around using more and more electronic sound effects as it goes on. It is as wide ranging from a pop-indie sound right over to inprovisational electronic, then throwing in some slow sombre melodies. The two vocal sounds really work well with each other too.
Im no music critic but this really is a fantastic album! Songs id pick out as special are: Set Yourself on Fire, What I'm Trying to Say and Soft Revolution.
Well thats my two cents and if you decide to buy this i hope you enjoy it as much as i did!!
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