Stars, The Five Ghosts
A poppy account of love, death and the spectral forces that move between
Over the course of 2009, Torquil Campbell of Stars — one of several acts in the orbit of Toronto indie-rock collective Broken Social Scene — became a dad and lost his own. During that same time, keyboardist Chris Seligman moved into and promptly out of a Vancouver apartment he felt certain was haunted by a female spirit that wanted him dead. These fateful occurrences transformed the fifth disc from this beguiling quintet into a concept album dedicated to love, death and the spectral forces that move between.
Under those circumstances, there's no way that The Five Ghosts could be a happy, conventional record. Stars simply don't make them. But in contrast to 2007's In Our Bedroom after the War, a disc closer to the bombast of their countrymen in Arcade Fire than their usual Anglo musical sources (namely, the Smiths and their fellow Northerners in Prefab Sprout), The Five Ghosts is a poppier work. "I Died So I Could Haunt You" ranks among the catchiest tunes in the Stars catalog and "We Don't Want Your Body" follows harpsichord-like sounds with quasi-funk syncopation. Keyboards take precedence over guitars; drum machines return. Veteran big-time mixer Michael H. Brauer hones in on the arch songwriting and plaintive voices of Campbell — a Sheffield, England-born son of Shakespearean actors — and Amy Millan, whose crisp diction and innate theatricality rivals that of her bandmate.
The music may be Stars' lightest since their 2001 debut Nightsongs, but the album's themes are consistently heavy. Album opener "Dead Hearts" deals with the ghosts of deceased childhood acquaintances; concluding track "Winter Bones" addresses solitude. In between are songs about staying in bed, more ghosts, fate and futility, dissolute pop stars, endless nights, stasis vs. instability, transience, suicide through song, and the endless need for human contact. There's wit and sincerity in equal measure, but mostly there is longing — wide, moonlit streets full of nothing but desire. That's the specialty of Stars.