Stars - In Our Bedroom After The War
Note: In order to combat leaks and piracy, Arts and Crafts decided to release In Our Bedroom After The War as a digital download on July 10th. You can, as I did, purchase the album digitally here. The album will be released on CD and Vinyl formats September 25th, 2007.
Download: Stars - "Window Bird"
Download: Stars - "Take Me To The Riot"
Download: Stars - "The Ghost of Genova Heights"
Download: Stars - "In Our Bedroom After The War"
In Our Bedroom After The War (Arts and Crafts, 2007)
If there is a single sound that could personify all of the complicated emotions surrounding breaking up, then reconciling, it's the intertwining harmonies of Stars's Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell. On 2005's Set Yourself On Fire, the singers made the most out of the fact that they possess similar timbres - both voices recall a lover's bedside whisper. The result was an album of startlingly intimacy and, backed by winsome, Smiths-influenced indie-pop, an album that served as Stars's commercial (from an indie perspective, at least) and artistic breakthrough.
The follow-up, In Our Bedroom After The War, mines the same emotional territory as Set Yourself On Fire, but does so from a little more tranquil perspective. After a short instrumental that sounds like it came from the soundtrack of your favorite anime, the first song proper is "The Night Starts Here," which starts out with Millan's soft, cooing vocals and a ethereal keyboard, then segues into a steady drumbeat, a pulsing bass line, and subtle guitar accompaniment. That song, along with "Take Me To The Riot," serve as In Our Bedroom After The War beginning one-two punch. "Riot" is one of the record's highest peaks and has an absolutely irresistible chorus.
That song, along with "The Night Starts Here," "Midnight Coward" and "My Favorite Book," make up a series of remarkably consistent group of stellar songs. There are string and percussion flourishes on "My Favorite Book" that show a surprising 70s influences in the band's music (the Prince worthy falsetto that Campbell busts out in "The Ghost of Genova Heights" is also a pleasant surprise). Those stylistic changes are mainly what separate In Our Bedroom After The War from Set Yourself On Fire. Also worth noting are the increased vocal presence of Millan, the greater amount of songs driven by keyboards, and the larger amount of midtempo songs. Not that Set Yourself On Fire was Master of Puppets, or anything like that, but gone are the uptempo songs like "Soft Revolution" or "Set Yourself on Fire."
One change that doesn't work quite so well are the addition of all-out ballads. "Personal" is creative from a lyrical standpoint, but slows the momentum of the album and "Barricade" is one string line from becoming a cheeseball prom anthem. But these missteps are slight, as the album picks up with "Window Bird," with its nifty time changes.
If there's anything Stars know how to do extremely well, it's giving the listener a terrific album closer, and the title track of War is phenomenal. It builds slowly, but steadily, and by the time the song is done, it's all but impossible to feel a wave of wistful transcendence. Fire had that feeling as well, and it's incredibly remarkable that Stars have created another record which sustains that mood through 55 minutes of glorious indie-pop.