Stars would likely be flattered if you called them “pop” and honored if you called them “sophisticated.” You shouldn’t have to choose between the two; as their previous collaborator/remixer Owen Pallett will be more than happy to tell you, a lot of science goes into bubblegum. But since their 2004 breakthrough Set Yourself on Fire, Stars made those terms seem mutually exclusive, as their charms were obscured by haughty thematic concepts (In Our Bedroom After the War), doughy orchestration (The Five Ghosts) or astonishing self-regard (the abominable remix LP Do You Trust Your Friends?). Fortunately, by 2012’s The North, Stars decided to have fun again (or for the first time) and No One Is Lost finds them chasing base thrills with more even more gusto. But in micromanaging every celebratory aspect, it raises the question of whether a party is still a party if Stars run through it.
As opposed to its nostalgic predecessor, No One Is Lost concerns itself with forward momentum, beginning with its serendipitous recording atop the Royal Phoenix, a now-shuttered Montreal gay disco. While the Phoenix was still in business, the bass would make its way up to Stars’ studio and they were motivated to “out-throb the throb.” And some of No One Is Lost qualifies as danceable, if not exactly “dance music.” It’s simply a more extroverted look at the artisanal indie genres that one has come to expect from this band—melodramatic, Smiths-derived jangle, sophistipop, blue-eyed Motown—though they strew triplet bass drum across the straight soul-clap of “A Stranger” like they might’ve heard DJ Rashad at some point.
More to the point, the narrators of No One Is Lost abide by a fatalism that’s the closest thing we’ll probably get to actual optimism on a Stars record: something along the lines of, you’ll probably have to spend most of your days in a shit job or a boring relationship, so make the night count. That’s the message of six-minute mission statement “From the Night”, and as far as Canadian indie collectives paying homage to the transformative powers of sundown by fusing arena rock and Gloria Estefan, well…it’s at least in the top two from the past year. But even if Stars can never truly cut loose, they can offer the crowd an honest hands-up chorus and lack the earnestness that made Arcade Fire’s costume parties sound stiff.
But as the album progresses, that becomes a liability. If not earnestness, you wish Stars could demonstrate the same kind of black-and-white, life-or-death stakes in their music as their Montreal neighbors. If you’re gonna espouse a “live fast, die young” philosophy, you have to sound like you believe it too. This is less of a problem when Stars engage in their usual, theatrical songwriting constructs and set pieces. The he-said, she-said between Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan is too comfy to generate much friction at this point, although the possible songwriting-as-lovemaking metaphor of “You Keep Coming Up” (“You gotta give it away/ So you can get it for free”) does at least provide wincing awkwardness.
But when No One Is Lost tries to blend in with the youth, Stars sound like professors rather than participants. The schoolyard shouts of “Turn It Up” sound out of character in all aspects, though at least the title refers to the radio and not the 2013 colloquialism. And while “Trap Door” contains the most elegant choral melody, Campbell’s critiques of hedonism’s inherent hollowness come off as smug, sounding like someone who’s writing about the idea of it rather than the experience—“the kids in VIP are all looking for a family/ Their teeth are made of gold but their wallets are empty.” Gold teeth?
That’s a more egregious example of how Stars’ lyrics are pithy, but facile, lacking any kind of edge. The most problematic one comes when Stars deliver what should be the mic-drop, valedictory address during the title track: “Put your hands up because everybody dies.” It reminds you that irony pervades this album from its title on down and that Campbell feels the best way to cope with the pervasive disorientation of being alive is, “To get arseholed and listen to Dionne Warwick,” another arch quote demonstrating how “fuck it” is so carefully curated here. Is No One Is Lost even an album meant to be listened to in the very situations it writes about? While a fine enough record in its own right, it’s more suited to fostering a discussion about the theoretical implications of our collective, impending doom than celebrating it.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1v1EpYe