Review Summary: The fire they set is still burning.'10,000 drunken kids in a field can't be wrong; the song must be beautiful, or they wouldn't sing along.'
A lyric lifted from 14 Forever encapsulates the way Stars see themselves: the voices of the unchanging desires and hopes of a generation's most lost romantics. If 2003's Heart showed potential, then Set Yourself On Fire capitalised on it, bringing huge sentiments and idealistic optimism to indie-pop songs which showcased an ability to blend accessible songwriting with intriguing quirks. In Our Bedroom After The War took that template in two different directions to astounding the effect, the first being a nod to male vocalist Torquil Campbell's theatrical experience and the second being a more electronic slant which assisted the band in executing its more subtle passages. While there's no doubt that 2009 tour EP Sad Robots
mostly takes the latter of these batons to run with, it's very much testament to the band's inherent solid identity that they still only really sound like Stars.
Just the inclusion of Going, Going, Gone [Live]
serves as ample evidence that Stars have never radically changed direction in terms of their target effect; the track, from their 2001 debut, sits not just comfortable but decidedly serene amid the 5 new cuts on offer. Without knowledge of the band's back catalogue it would never be obvious that the song was from a different era, such is the ease with which its droning, nostalgic ambience and mechanical drumbeats fit between modern-era productions which differ slightly in aesthetic but very little in impact. Take for example Undertow
, which sets its feet on a simple bassline and echoing, machine-like drums, or opening instrumental Maintenance Hall, 4am
drifts in and out of bursts of static filters and faint robotic vocals. And though Going, Going, Gone
tussles with 14 Forever
for the title of most dynamic track, that doesn't detract from the impression left by the slow-burners.
And what won't surprise you, if you know anything about Stars, is that even the more direct tracks feel wistful, wrapping the dual vocals of Campbell and Millan around calming, pensive tales of lost love and fragile emotions; as A Thread Cut With A Carving Knife
crescendos, Millan launches missile after missile of quotable lyricism: Imagine that you're standing here, and suddenly you disappear; a thread cut with a craving knife, that is what they call our life.
Stars occasionally drift into territory that's been covered better before, but for the most part they draw a very bold line down the most delicate side of broad sentiment - the type of songs that 10,000 drunken kids in a field won't feel strange singing along to. The songwriting on Sad Robots shows that the band have at their core a very strong sensibility still capable of touching on the themes of strong heads and hearts like they did so well on their previous two LPs.
At its bookends stand two unspectacular tracks, the opener nothing more than a lengthy introduction and the closer a failed attempt at Something Artsy™, but the actual body of Stars' 2009 EP is infinitely listenable and addictive in the most tender way imaginable. It's too short, like all good EPs. It sees a band that are really quite good at writing to reach people strike the perfect balance between introspective, almost shoegaze-esque soundscapes and the emotional punch they drag from beneath the surface so frequently. Sad Robots remains enchanting throughout and does more than bode well for the future; it's bound to get any fan of the group genuinely excited about their follow-up to Bedroom, because on this evidence it looks like being a rival.