The Canadian indiepop band Stars has never had a problem with crafting sad songs with shimmery music and pretty vocals, and this has definitely not changed in "In Our Bedroom After The War."
In fact, their fourth full-length album takes that tendency even further. Instead of a string of individual songs, it's a musical-style sequence of songs that seem to be about the sorrows of life and live during a war. With, of course, with lots of lush indiepop and murmury vocals.
It opens with a slow-building electropop tune that isn't quite catchy enough to make you pay attention. That is reserved for the swirling, dreamlike ballad "The Night Starts Here," a simple song with moments of insight ("You name your child/After your fear/And tell them/"I have brought you here").
Fortunately the songs that follow take after the latter than the former -- shimmery keyboard tunes, driving guitar-filled powerpop, exquisitely flickering ballads, and the discoey flavour of "Ghost of Genova Heights." Don't be fooled by its upbeat sound -- the concept is perhaps the most depressing one that Stars has ever done.
The album does stumble a bit in the second lap, with the warbly "Barricade" and forgettable "Window Bird," but fortunately it picks up after that. There's a brief spurt of colourful indie-rock, and swirling ballads, ending with the mellow, retrospective title track. It's a fitting finale, and saves the album from being TOO depressing.
On the first listen, "In Our Bedroom After the War" is basically the kind of chamberpop the band has been making for ages. Musically, much the same as their past work, save for a couple songs ("Bitches in Tokyo") where they dabble in new sounds.
And the band has a pretty polished sound at present -- there's lots of smooth guitar and clattery drums keeping the peppier songs moving. In the softer ones, they're woven with plinky piano, chimes, colourful streaks of synth and some dramatic strings.
But wait -- listen carefully. Each song is a little, bittersweet story -- fragmented love affairs, veterans' ghosts, even a doomed affair between two soccer hooligans. But no matter how dark the songs get, Amy Millan's vocals are still sweet, and Torquil Campbell's are still extremely dramatic.
It ends prettily happily, though, with a ballad all about the end of war, and realizing that the world has just become a bit brighter. "Yes, we're back again/Here to see you through til the day's end/And if the night comes, and the night will come/Well at least the war is over..."
"In Our Bedroom After the War" is a little musical journey on its own -- and despite a few dud songs, it's a journey worth taking. Definitely worth hearing.