Stars: Set Yourself On Fire

June 18, 2011

Set Yourseld on Fire North American cover artRoll: 4-9-10
Stars, Set Yourself On Fire.

I’m pretty sure I reviewed this album before. I think it was for a student newspaper (when I was no longer a student) back when the disc was first released in 2004. Generally a lazy sort, I was hoping to find said review in order to cannibalize it, but it seems to have been lost in the annals of music criticism. Too bad since I feel like I could have published it nearly verbatim. It turns out that seven(!) years later, Stars‘ third album, Set Yourself On Fire, holds up remarkably well.

Though not entirely as well as my memory would’ve had me believe. This is mainly because my conception of the album is actually of a 10-song playlist made up of five tracks from this album and five from the previous album, Heart. It was a perfect compilation of lovelorn angst that, along with Thom Yorke‘s Eraser, got me through what was probably the most confusing break-up in a reasonably long series of confusing break-ups.

The girl in question was mildly autistic—or perhaps Aspbergers—and I was in a state of total arrested development. To say the least, I was emotionally ill-equipped to navigate the complexities of normal human communication, much less the labyrinthine leaps of logic she excelled in. The problem in many relationships was that the people involved see things in black and white. Worse, one only sees black, their counterpart refuses to see anything other than white. We were doomed because I saw things in shades of grey and she was the kind of savant genius who could see how the shades of grey were made of millions of black dots on a white plane. Identifying and cataloguing the dots is what did us in.

Or, more accurately, it was my total lack of interest in dots when the real problem was the spaces in between them. When you look too closely at a problem, inescapably you begin to see it in terms of black and white.

Set Yourseld on Fire Creepy European edition cover art

The not-as-good, very creepy European edition cover design.

Anyway, I played this list non-stop on my first MP3 player. A tiny white Creative Labs thingy with a whopping 128mb on-board memory (I supplemented it with 1GB SD cards) and a black LCD display. The device was a hand-me-down from the break-upee who’d just purchased one of the early iPod Nanos, I believe. It was all part of the confusing situation. Well, we still lived together so there was a pretence of civility for a while. Free MP3 player with a side of scathing vitriol.

So it was that lines like he doesn’t want her but just won’t let her go from “The Big Fight” and I chose to feel it and you couldn’t choose from “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” which are fairly trite, standard pop song faire, at the time resonated in my aching soul like a tremmoring fault-line. As well Sorry for wasting your time / Five long months on the telephone line / Hours of asking if you were fine / And saying I was fine, too (from Heart‘s “Life Effect”) seemed to have been written by someone spying on my life and re-broke my heart every single day.

I’m not sure why I put myself through that every day but I suspect listening to the emotionally triggering, minor-chord ditties was something I imagined to be a form of noble self-flagellation. Perhaps I thought feeling sad was better than feeling angry.

At this point in the review I should probably veer away from autobiography and say a few words from a musicological standpoint. Set Yourself On Fire is a nearly perfect indie-pop opus from conception to execution. Its 13 tracks run the gamut from anthemic, theatrical indie-rock (Your Ex-Lover Is Dead) to shoegazey noisepop (Ageless Beauty) to dreampop shaded sophistipop (Sleep Tonight) to electro-acoustic twee-pop (The First Five Times) and everywhere else along the indie-pop spectrum.

Part of Stars’ appeal is their back-and-forth boy/girl narratives (Amy Millan‘s coyly coquettish breathy delivery is a treat) that play out like scenes from an indie-rock musical. Songs from Heart, Set Yourself On Fire and the follow-up In Our Bedroom After The War work together as a none-linear audiobook about the birth, decline and fall of a doomed relationship. It’s pretty pretentious stuff, really, and would be insipid if it weren’t done so well.

In short Stars are the Canadian band who should be basking in the limelight Arcade Fire are desperately trying to not enjoy right now. And Set Yourself On Fire is one of their best.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: