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Set Yourself on Fire

4.4 out of 5 stars 75 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Approaching the follow-up to an album you adored is a tricky thing -- there are all those expectations to wade through. Luckily, Montreal/Toronto soft-focus popsters Stars more than live up to last year's endlessly charming Heart with their latest, Set Yourself on Fire. Universal. 2004.

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Sure they look pretty and sound pretty and all, but is this Montreal-based quartet ever going to amount to much, you know in the course of "rock history"? Very likely, if their captivating third album, Set Yourself on Fire, is any indication. Vocalists Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell have never harmonized better together, and the whole keyboard-heavy band is at that delectable place where they transcend their influences. Great pop music is not about "originality" (nor has it ever much been); it’s a passionate marriage of idea and conviction. Sure, you can still hear the mark of Beulah, the Smiths, New Order, Broken Social Scene and Super Furry Animals in their songs. But the group has never been as confident with their marriage of lush, exuberant dreampop and dark, clever lyrics as they are here. --Mike McGonigal
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (March 8, 2005)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Arts and Crafts
  • ASIN: B00061F8M8
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #88,071 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Manny Hernandez HALL OF FAME on November 14, 2005
Format: Audio CD
I first heard Stars live as they opened for Death Cab for Cutie during their visit to Orlando, not too long ago. I was floored. As much as I enjoyed Death Cab, I was more impressed with the performance by the Canadians. I decided to pick up their latest album as the kid at the t-shirt stand told me 75% of the set list was from it. I set myself up, because now I am in an endless loop I cannot escape of. I simply CANNOT and will not take this album out of my player.

Stars is a bit of a spinoff of the Canadian experimental musical collective Broken Social Scene (BSS). They too are a bit of a collective that blends in traditional rock instruments with strings and horns in a way that is almost impossible to describe. When I first heard them, I thought (because of the female voice -one of the musicians from BSS): "This must be how 10,000 Maniacs would sound, were they still around." Enter the male singer (reminded me a bit of Trashcan Sinatras) and their harmonies. Where do you put that? Heavenly combination of voices, perfect balance that doesn't drown out any of the two.

Take the bass work (another member of BSS). If you pay close attention to it, you find out there's more to their bass than the typical sound you hear almost everywhere. The bass in Stars is almost a melodic instrument: it is every bit as much a part of the core sound of the band.

Then add to this the most grandious compositions, lyrics and arrangements, which almost seem to change gears every song and even within songs, from calm to upbeat, from upbeat to ambient, from ambient to lounge... You think it's hard to follow? You feel it's a melange? Well, that is perhaps the most brilliant thing about the band.
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Format: Audio CD
There must be something in the water, or the air, in Montreal. Lately a lot of great music is coming from the great white north. This album is not as quirkily original as Arcade Fire, but is more immediately accessible, and like "Funeral" this set shares an offbeat sensibility that keeps it out of the mainstream pop radar. As I listened to "Set Yourself on Fire" it dawned on me that there are few bands that seamlessly blend male and female lead vocals effortlessly together--Fleetwood Mac immediately comes to mind--most bands are "male" vocalist or "female" vocalist predominant. Tha's one of the things that set this collection apart, that and the great lyrics. "One More Night" reminded me of a similar incident in my own past... Other highlights are "Your Ex-Love is Dead", "Ageless Beauty" and "The First Five Times" but there is hardly a throwaway track on the entire collection.
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Format: Audio CD
If you've ever said "I love you" and haven't heard it back, if you've ever come across your ex and wondered what could have been, if you've ever made love one last time even though both of you knew it was over, then this CD is for you. Especially if you love beautiful voices, squiggly keyboards, driving guitars and hip-shaking bass.

Not a keyboard-band, not a guitar-band, not a boy-band, not a girl-band, Stars manages to combine all those elements into one unique whole, where the production seems to vary across each track and yet comes from those same elements each time. They do a wonderful job of harkening to the great lovesick bands of the past while still sounding fresh and original, and the best part about it lies in the wonderful voices of the two lead singers, male and female. Sometimes they sing together, sometimes they sing at each other, like parts in a high school play, and when they do you'll know exactly what they mean, because you'll feel like one of their characters if not both. Then you realize that they probably aren't singing about characters but their own personal experience, and you understand where the emotional depth and pathos are coming from.

Musically the band is both upbeat and melancholy, often at the same time, which is a true wonder, because it makes the music feel different according to your own mood. Moments that drive like My Bloody Valentine are balanced with an orchestral break worthy of Burt Bacharach, and the bouncing beats of New Order, Stereolab and Tortoise are tempered by a strong jazz, lounge, and maybe even trip-hop influence at times.
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Format: Audio CD
the first two stars albums, 'nightsongs,' and 'heart,' certainly had nice moments, but as whole albums they were decidedly hit and miss. the hits were great, the misses weren't. in this sense, stars was a very frustrating band. you could see the glimpses of greatness, yet there were moments you wondered if they'd ever get past their own preciousness.

fortunately, 'set yourself on fire' is the bands' first consistently great work. the album opener 'you're ex-lover is dead' (metaphorically dead, according to the always clever lyrics), opens with a nice cello reminiscent of bach's 'air on the g-string.' but what really sets the song soaring are torquil campbell's and amy millan's vocals. they're sort of a more upbeat alan sparhawk and mimi parker. when they sing in unison 'live through this and you won't look back...i'm not sorry i met you, i'm not sorry it's over, i'm not sorry there's nothing to say,' you don't hear an ounce of sentimentality. it's the kind of catharsis anyone who's ever endured a breakup would hope for.

'ageless beauty' is the obvious album standout. it's a stirring athem without the fist-pumping. when amy millan sings, 'you will always be aroud' you believe it. it's as near perfect a pop song you could ever hope to hear.

'sleep tonight' is another standout track. when i listen to it on headphones, it's clear just how attentive to detail stars is. horns, guitars, sleighbells, an unsettling synthline, and amy millan's voice all combine for the sort of aural bliss you didn't really think people could make.

these are but a few highlights from an album full of great, poppy, sophisticated, grounded pop songs.
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