Good pop is in the ear of the beholder. Canadian foursome Stars make their own brand, and have delivered another collection of gorgeous songs full of dewy, sunlit reflection and confessional heartbreak. Heart
, like the group's 2001 debut, Nightsongs
, dances between genre specifics to the point of being barely categorizable, marrying an indie rock edge to an electronic pulse and crafty lyrical introspection, while retaining a hummability that threatens to make the group their generation's St. Etienne.
Stars' plaintive melodies and wistful, heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics are what you notice first, with the vocal tradeoff between Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan bringing tenderness to shimmery, cashmere-soft songs about love, loss and longing. In other hands, this emo-type approach would bog the proceedings down in saccharine twaddle, but Stars apply such finesse that even a track with a soppy title like "What The Snowman Learned About Love" saves itself with stylish lo-fi production and haunting intimacy. "Look Up" is buoyed by lovely strings and ranks as one of the album's strongest cuts, though it's surrounded by plenty of competition -- in part courtesy of Millan's sad/hopeful refrains. "Elevator Love Letter" bounces along with a driven punch, dreamy pop hooks rubbing softly against guitar-laden sparkle and snappy beat programming. Sometimes Stars recall other artists -- The Beta Band with a disco strut on "Death To Death", the blithe feel of The Lightning Seeds on the title track -- but whether these instances are echoes of influence or not, the band never fails to transcend them on their own merits.
Heart is an exceptional sophomore effort, bursting at the seams with pop content, but the prism through which it travels bends it, taints it and humanizes it in ways that are at once soul-clenching and unpretentious. Music like this is really a high-wire act, but Stars, with their unaffected songcraft and appreciation for simple melody, pull it off like few others.