Canadian indie pop troupe Stars have come a long way from Set Yourself on Fire. That iconic LP hit shelves in 2004 to worldwide critical acclaim thanks to inventive melodies that got the blood rushing. Wistful strings soundtracked fickle roving through elementary emotions, but the album was bound together by the type of meticulous sewing that makes for real nuance and depth. Ten years later, Stars appear to have changed with the times. Singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell aren’t mouthing the words they told their high school loves anymore. They’re laughing at the world’s demise while they whip by on roller skates.
Recorded above a defunct gay discotheque in Montreal, No One Is Lost is Stars’ most dance-heavy album to date. When the press release claimed the band had set out to “out-throb the throb” of clubs, it came as a shock. How could a group of artists known for their unique brand of twee go electronic? Stars were for dance parties in lofts, not grinding in clubs.
Then along came Campbell to say that the album title was a lie. Sure enough, No One Is Lost sees Stars poking through the illusion of certainty in life. Loving people is about accepting that they will be torn from you one day, quickly and painfully, and Stars are well aware of it. They’re facing the troughs of love on “Trap Door”, and they’ll be damned if they don’t do so laughing. This album is their Irish toast to it all.
Dancing comes easy when the youthful splurges of “Movie Score” describe summer school and the thrill of dumping exes. Even the springing metallic strings of “Are You OK?” are an excellent return to sound, calling on the band’s original New Order influences. No matter what, Stars always manage to trail their notes with the sigh of someone telling the truth of life’s woes. The sexscapade of “The First Five Times” can finally move aside. No One Is Lost sees Stars saunter into a realm of smooth beats and neon percussion that takes over with charming seduction.
Similarities to that other Canadian discotheque indie rock album — Arcade Fire’s Reflektor — can’t be missed. Both were birthed from ’70s dance, but breathe with modern moves. “You Keep Coming Up” pumps with the prowl of “We Exist”, and “Look Away” slows things to the tempo of “Porno”. Unlike their fellow Canadian supergroup, though, Stars aren’t pushing political agendas or trying to shock anyone. They’re inviting them to have fun in the here and now, aka the year of self-medication, decrepit journalism, and unmovable debt. Arcade Fire hoped to raise awareness. Stars just hope to raise spirits.
Stars easily could have made their seventh album a flat, forgettable record that got danced to and then shelved for years. Instead, the five-piece worked hard at doing exactly what they needed to do. Slow dance numbers “Turn It Up” and “What Is to Be Done?” are heartfelt nudges that show they’re still tender. Meanwhile, opener “From the Night” reads like a hymn for shut-ins, but it’s also a call to spring out the door and start dancing under the streetlights. It’s freedom in action, and truthfully, it’s a heartbreaking thing to watch: the businessmen and women releasing themselves into the weekend’s glow, free from the very job they hate, what they signed away the rest of their life to do. Stars are back, romantic as ever, throwing punches at redemption.
The EDM influence starts off a little too strong in “No One Is Lost” and “Trap Door”, but Millan’s vocals have enough presence to keep away from the trail of breadcrumbs Avicii left out. She and Campbell use their vocals as anchors, turning peppy instrumentation into a type of twisted loneliness — something all great club hits mask. When we wake up the next morning half hungover with the chorus drilling into our heads, the words stand tall without the bass amps. Suddenly, “Let’s be young/ Let’s pretend that we never will die” from “From the Night” feels so much heavier than it did on the dance floor.
No One Is Lost is Stars’ unrepentant kick through the 10-year anniversary door. It takes a slight adjustment to get used to their new dance direction, but it’s worth the shift. That’s how veteran indie rockers do. Set Yourself on Fire may have given them The OC fame, but this album has them flaunting true ageless beauty in this decade’s disco revival. No One Is Lost is the ticking wristwatch Stars show their friends on a Friday afternoon before delivering an ultimatum: Get dancing or get out of the way — it’s time to make your three-day weekend count.
Essential Tracks: “From the Night”, “Are You OK?”, and “What Is to Be Done?”