Being lost and confused is one thing, but to be lost and fully aware is an egregious sin. Though that wording may seem a little harsh, when music is involved, it’s truly an apt assessment. Sitting in the wake of the Canadian indie-rock explosion and nestled directly in the shadow of revered brother band Broken Social Scene, indie-pop group Stars finds itself, as unfortunate as it is, smack dab in the latter half of the equation with its latest release. It isn’t entirely the group’s fault as much as it is the amount that music — and indie music especially — has evolved in the last decade.


The Five Ghosts

In the early 2000s, the term “indie” carried with it much less of a stigma. These days, indie no longer necessarily connotes an independently conceived, independently produced and performed avenue for the creative counter-culture. In reality, it is now a blanket term that covers a massive scope of output — all the way from hip blog darlings like Neon Indian to Lollapalooza headliners Arcade Fire. What was once an innovative style of instrumentation and aesthetic — the proverbial road less traveled — has now been trampled into a formulaic interstate highway.

Had Stars released this disc in 2001 instead of 2010, it might actually be relevant in the wide scope of creative, evolutionary musicianship.

The Five Ghosts, Stars’s fifth album, is the essence of mediocrity. Lyrically, these 11 tracks come off as completely unimaginative, and sometimes even verge on absurdly forced and overly contrived to the point of being laughable. On the LP’s second track, “Wasted Daylight,” Amy Millan’s airy vocals soar over synthesized drums and ballroom sized keyboards as she sings, “I don’t mind this wasted, shaded daylight.” Though within the context of the song this line makes some semblance of sense, it also begs a further look into the realm of musical mediocrity. It’s Stars’s admittance as a second-tier outfit — one creating in the shadows, and in the exact same vein as great musicians passed, all too contentedly. With grandiose and florid electronic instrumentation, Stars is attempting to place itself on a pedestal with the likes of Death Cab For Cutie, only to come off as a remedially trained apprentice.

Despite an obvious affinity for overly orchestral songs, Stars does display a technical proficiency for writing pop music. On the stripped-down, ’50s-feeling album highlight “Changes,” Milan delivers a truly classic chorus. It’s one unlike anything else heard on Ghosts, as she gorgeously exhales, “Changes / I’ve never been good with change / I hate it when it all stays the same,” with the feel of satin-voiced girl groups of days gone by. That being said, this overwrought production, as a whole, is like a typical pop album, which leaves Ghosts to teeter on the fringe rather than becoming a straight-up success.

The fact of the matter is, Stars has created a decade-late re-imagining of the golden days of electro-indie pop without offering anything new to the table. As Milan and male vocalist Torquil Campbell share the chorus to the driving “I Died So I Could Haunt You,” their lackluster harmonies can’t help but echo the question — did you really?

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