"Set Yourself On Fire"

1st September 2005
reviewer: Will
rating: 5 out of 5
published by: Arts & Crafts
released: 15th August 2005
  1. Your Ex-Lover Is Dead
  2. Set Yourself On Fire
  3. Ageless Beauty
  4. Reunion
  5. The Big Fight
  6. What I'm Trying To Say
  7. One More Night
  8. Sleep Tonight
  9. The First Five Times
  10. He Lied About Death
  11. Celebration Guns
  12. Soft Revolution
  13. Calendar Girl

A list of Stars' vital statistics reads almost like a recipe for indie success: Canadian, avant-pop, boy & girl vocalists, part of the Broken Social Scene. The recent swell of interest in avant-pop bands like Architecture In Helsinki and the Fiery Furnaces has pretty much guaranteed that Stars are "so hot right now." And, to be honest, there's not much bad I can say about this album.

Linking them to the thoroughly bizarre Fiery Furnaces is actually a bit misleading, as Stars' sound is a lot more settled. Their classic bittersweet pop bears comparison to Belle & Sebastian, albeit with a healthy dose of electronics thrown into the mix - something which B&S tend to shy away from.

Set Yourself On Fire is half acoustic, half electronic, with the two threads often intertwining: urgent synths propel the title track while strings push in like ocean waves, while ‘He Lied About Death’ is programmed percussion with guitars stretched taut over the top, until the song twists, snaps, and explodes in a mess of jazz-fusion saxophones.

Opener ‘Your Ex-Lover Is Dead’ reminds me of the Pogues' ‘Fairytale Of New York’, probably because of the he-said she-said vocals and hopeful violin arrangement, but also because it imparts a strong sense of place, the feel of the city at night. These songs are short stories, their characters discovering love and sex aren't black and white, that the shades of grey can be beautiful.

Each track starts off centred around a simple hook, but then unfolds into something complex and barely controllable, much like the relationships Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan are singing about. New loves, exes, one-night stands, quiet regret and noisy recrimination; Set Yourself On Fire is full of the stuff of modern romance, wrapped up in smart three-minute pop songs with all the energy and enthusiasm that being young and in love imparts.

At the end of the title track, as the song floats to earth in a dreamy coda of piano and echo vocals, Stars whisper “20 years asleep before we sleep, forever”. There's no doubting it's a wake-up call: the band are desperate for their - our - generation to stop biding its time, to live like there's no tomorrow. The last words Millan sings are “I'm alive” but rather than herself, she's speaking for the album. This is a vital and heartfelt piece of music - you could say stellar (sorry.)