Stars has always been one of Canada’s more enigmatic bands. They’re like a set of ethereal spirits, descending from on high every few years to give us their unique brand of dreamy indie pop. Over fifteen years, the group has come to specialize in a particular type of aural existentialism—a mix of sweetness and deep melancholy. After several years of insecurity and lack of direction, their latest release, No One is Lost, may just be their most focused album since the groundbreaking Set Yourself on Fire.
No One is Lost is a dance album, embracing electronic synthesizers and drum machines as the medium by which to convey a distinct sense of both distance and intimacy. Weaving a range of human experiences onto tightly composed melodies, which are more complex than they initially seem, is what Stars does best. That’s how a disco-infused track, like opener “From the Night”, can joyfully claim “I don’t care if we never come back from the night” during the chorus, while touching on mortality (“Let’s be young / Let’s pretend that we never will die”) in its verses. It’s also how the album’s distinctly simplistic lyrics (“Summer school never felt so cool / And you never want to lose your cool”) feel like more of a commentary on dance music than a slip in quality—though the line is often very thin.
Stars struggle with every album they release because the songs must inevitably be compared to Set Yourself on Fire, their 2004 sophomore album, widely regarded as the best thing they’ve ever done. The shadow of SYoF hung over Stars’ work during the rest of the 2000s, but they’ve finally climbed up out of the pit, so to speak, embracing a new direction. This renewed energy begins on 2012’s The North, and materializes in full force on No One is Lost. Like SYoF, there’s a distinct theme which runs through No One is Lost. Whereas Set Yourself on Fire was an unflinching and honest look at the deterioration of a relationship, No One is Lost is a dance album for introverts—the perfect soundtrack for someone whose ideal club is one that is entirely empty. No One is Lost easily weaves a narrative
, depicting the awkward courtship of two nerdy weirdos trying to flirt with each other like “normal” people do. The couple narrative comes, in part, from Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan’s exquisite vocals, whether they’re taking on individual songs or trading lyrics back and forth in “You Keep Coming Up”.
There are a lot of songs to like in No One is Lost. Millan evokes childlike innocence in “Turn it Up”, and makes you yearn for shoulder pads and permed hair in the 80’s-style slow-dance ballad “No Better Place”. Campbell gets his own moments to shine too; his melancholic voice carries the exquisitely sad “A Stranger”, accompanied by a slow clap rhythm and a simple, but effective, bass riff. Campbell also helms the New-Wave-esque “Trap Door”, one of the best tracks of the bunch,
a mid-album shot of energy, capped with a saxophone solo that evokes the INXS dance jams of the 80’s—think Clarence Clemons’ transcendent solo on Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory”. The title track concludes the album, summing up its central thesis—but even with the affirming notion of “no one is lost” comes Stars’ constant awareness of the fragility of life. It’s a song that says “put your hands up, ’cause everybody dies”; we may as well dance tonight, because we may not be here tomorrow.
No One is Lost isn’t perfect.
“You Keep Coming Up” lingers for a minute too long without being substantial enough to deserve it, and tracks like “What is to Be Done” and “Look Away” just aren’t as memorable as the more outstanding songs. The album is nowhere near as confident in its quality as The New Pornographers’ Brill Bruisers, and perhaps a more critical writers could find other flaws. That said, No One is Lost is a different sort of beast altogether; Stars thrives on emotions , and getting a really good feeling from No One is Lost is easy. It’s a highly appealing album for anyone who’s ever liked dance clubs more in theory than practice. In reality, the club is often crowded, the drinks overpriced, and the strangers unappealing; but, there’s an ethereal beauty to the idea—the flashing lights, the bodies gyrating in Bacchanalian ritual, and the idea of finding your other half by following those primal instincts. With No One is Lost, Stars captures that romantic ideal, making an album that reflects both the shallowness and the inherent depth of dance music—the sadness and the joy in being surrounded by people, and yet, totally alone.