It’s no surprise what you’ll find in this can o’ syrup – pretty electro-pop with a male and a female sharing heartfelt lead singing duties – but you may be surprised to find yourself tapping your emotional foot to the catchy melodies instead of frantically erasing all signs of the earnest glurge.
A quick glance at the song titles sums up most of what’s wrong here – “Heart,” “Time Will Never Kill the True Heart,” “Romantic Comedy,” “Don’t Be Afraid to Sing.” And yes, I am decidedly a “song title inside quotes” man from now on. Or perhaps you’d prefer Girlfiend’s outburst from a few nights ago: “What is this sentimental crap? If I heard this on the radio I would laugh and laugh.” We then began our third consecutive drunken game of electronic Risk that resulted in a shouting argument, so I knew that she was serious. That was during the pretty silly “Heart,” a wimpy song that’s all the goopiest parts of this album in one and it’s freaking six minutes long.
But there’s lots to like amidst the part where all my frat friends would stink-eye me if I played it around them. Even though the opener starts with each member of the band earnestly intoning “I am (name), this is my heart,” the song turns into a lovely repetitive icy riff thing and a lovely repetitive harmony on a few lines that doesn’t have anything to do with snowmen at ALL. Then the second song is an excellent call-and-answer pop song that snakes around on a great chord progression, neat-o bass riff, and the sly line “I’m so hard for the rich girl” that may be the one time on the album that Stars don’t sound like pansies.
“What the Black Snowman Learned About Love” and “Escalator Love Letter” are the two best songs here (except maybe the prosaic “Look Up”), but there are lots of unexpected (to my stupid ears) chord changes and neat-o keyboard settings here (and good basslines – what the gentle fuck?) to make the message of the album/band palatable: that message being that it’s okay to be extremely serious about god damned everything your arts student neurochemicals tell you to be serious about. It’s certainly music for young people, though hopefully not the 18 year-old mentioned in the shameful closer “Don’t Be Afraid to Sing.”
And I stand by being ashamed to voice such a sentiment. It’s heavy-handed and simplistic, and who gives a fuck if some white kid in university is afraid to “sing” or not? I know there are always more important things, but the self-esteems of soft-hearted teenagers is as meaningless and intentionally blind as a songwriter can be if they’re treating it EXTREMELY SERIOIUSLY like these guys are. It manages to simultaneously preach, say nothing, and be saccharine. And phrased in this way – without any subtlety or hooks – it’s just boring. Can’t they at least pretend it’s about a kitten or something?
I don’t think I’d want to be friends with these people unless they’re stunningly attractive but damn it, pretty melodies! Catchy harmonies! That creepy voice in “The Woods!” At times lovely reflections on life as a sensitive young person! It sounds pretty good as long as they avoid sounding like they think they’ll all die the day after the recording session.