Stars – Set Yourself On Fire

Saying that human beings are incompetent is like saying the Alps are heavy, so it’s nice when someone gets it right for a goddamned change.

You can get away with selling a weak premise if you’re a talented arguer. Hell, I’ve been using that logic to make my girlfriend date me for almost four years now. In the merry old land of art talented arguing is a simple manner of efficacy. What I’m getting at is that the caprices of sensitive people are meaningless, but Stars get it so right here, so artistically valid, that this is a really fucking solid album. Transcendent, even. Magical if you’re high enough.

Remember when Christina Aguilera’s first song was “Genie in a Bottle”? So do I. Anyway, I forgot about Dre again. I’m always forgetting about Dre; some say it’s my most wonderful quality.

To imagine what’s going on here, imagine a 21 year-old: shapely androgynous haircut. Fitting thrift store clothes. Small nose. Light blue shoes. Idealistic but prone to fits of depression. Aware of the shames of humanity but hopeful. Dreams of moving to New York or Portland. Wants to make a difference and maybe someday money. Likes hallucinogens more than stimulants. Democrat for life. Confident, but braced by absorbing the first wave of adulthood’s blows. Maybe taking English and already regretting it; maybe taking economics and already regretting it.

Now imagine this person putting their everything into an album and getting nearly everything the fuck correct. Romanticism, idealism, outrage. Sure, you want to punch them in the face, but that’s the bitter side of you wanting, isn’t it? The same side that loses patience with panhandlers and beeps at kissing teenagers.

Thar’s your intangibles. Tangibly: they got a real band! No more stupid synthshshtthshs! It sounds quite fetching. And like a band with too many great ideas, they manage to make each song a fun melodic surprise, and they’re all good! For starters, “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” is a shockingly great stringy duet about meeting one’s former lover, culminating in a a risible “I’m not sorry I met you / I’m not sorry it’s over / I’m not sorry there’s nothing to save” that falls in the realm of things that would only not slightly affect the emotionless. Plus, it has a classy epigraph. But then! “Set Yourself On Fire” is a jaunty synth-pop number driven by a driving bassline, and a charming reflection on what’s important in life. Then “Ageless Beauty” is a genuine indie rock song filled with youthful optimism. Catchiness is hard to describe, but each song feeling unique and unboring isn’t. The rest of the album isn’t quite the joy, but you still get a pleasant change with every coming song; it never gets boring.

Lyrically you’ve got three topics: romance, death, ‘n’ outrage. Romanticism is the troubling one, but the dudes stay smart by sticking to the sexual side of things unless they really know what they’re doing. “One More Night” is all about breakuo sex, “The First Five Times” is a charming ode to initially getting it on, “Reunion” is basically a well-written pickup line to an old high school crush, and “Sleep Tonight” is pretty obvious. The romantic overtones are totally there, they’re just implied as if the band is talented or something. The outrage is a bit weaker, all wrapped up in anti-Bush outrage, even if “I hope your drinking daughters are gay” is a pretty good zing. But that’s situational stuff, and it’s forgivable if you remember your 21 year-old being alive during the Bush years – what would you have it sing about?

By the time it gets around to the closer “Calender Girl” you’ve heard a stirring fuckton of great harmonies and melodic surprises, and the predictable chord changes are welcome amidst the charming optimism and niceness. It’s still a pansy album, but pansy makes good here. If you don’t like it you’re probably either a sad person or not a sad enough person.

In conclusion, to quote an email written to me many months ago, “in conclusion, fuck you.”

But no. No! Dig it because this is a life you want to live and continue leading. Sure they’re idealistic, but they’re right about everything. These things matter on their on their own terms. These things are important in and of themselves and they’re here beautifully. This is charm, this is form, this is actualization. Enjoy it while you’re waiting for the elevator, while you walk through the park, while you walk along the street with your friend. Stare out the window, because this is either who you are or who you used to be.

9/10

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