(100) Days of Soundtrack: #30 – Stars – No One Is Lost

It was unintentional to bring Stars into the mix so soon after Matthew Good. They’re a band from which the memories run very similarly in my mind, at least in origin. The same San Francisco haze, the same voice singing the songs. I’ve been lucky enough to see Stars a handful of times since then, and they’ve always impressed. Their albums always have a certain earnestness and awkwardness and lushness. There is a mood for which only Stars satisfies. And yet, over the last few albums, I’ve been remiss. I’ve heard The North once, and liked it alright, but never revisited for familiarity. When No One is Lost came out, I hadn’t even tried to learn more. It was on the radar, but only blipping now and then, reminding me it existed but not threatening to be listened to. Now was the time.

No One Is Lost starts off a bit strange as Stars albums go. “From The Night” is more hipster-jangle-dance than even these quintessential indie darlings normally are, but it’s also sparser than their lush arrangements tend to be, with verses consisting largely of Torquil’s voice and a synthetic drum pulse. It jars against the jangle of the chorus, and with the roller-derby disco of the album cover, it doesn’t bode well as a starter. It is followed by “This is the Last Time,” Amy’s turn to go a bit 80s teenybop, with uncharacteristically speedy phrasing sitting oddly with her wisp of a voice. It’s about as difficult a one-two punch as a fan can get. It’s concerning that a band at the age Stars are now at would have the aspirations to go teenage dream, especially when they are, as content, much more contemplative, literary, at times rebellious, and certainly in love with the naivete of love, but often from a romantic perspective and less that of green youth.

It’s the sort of intro that would make it an immense relief to find the rest of the album is largely bland. Thankfully, that is exactly the case here. That’s not to say that all is, well, lost, though. There are moments when there’s some old magic. “What Is To Be Done?” is as good as any number of songs on the first few Stars albums, with building tension and layers, with unison vocals, with a sense that there’s something fragile about to be broken. “Turn It Up” has beautiful bones… it could be a killer if the drums felt more organic, if there wasn’t so much white noise in the mix, if there wasn’t the jumprope rhyme cadence and tone on the “ayyayy, ayyayy”s. The line by line trade-offs between Torq and Amy on “You Keep Coming Up” are a bit nostalgic, even if the song itself is pretty forgettable. “No Better Place” is a slice of classic Amy, right down to the sappy imagery of the sun hiding and not coming out to play, while “The Stranger” is equally perfectly Torquil and ends up being a much needed highlight. The highlights, sadly, only underscore the luster lacking throughout the rest of the album. By the back half, things are listenable again, sure, but not eminently revisitable.

Ending this set of songs is “No One is Lost,”which might be the song of the album. It’s not the best one here, but it feels interestingly placed, as a Stars fan. It begins with the most successful of the spoken word interludes here, normally used to interesting effect in Stars’ songs. It echoes back to “From the Night,” where the title is first spoken. The track feels like an intro track, yet it’s the ending. Specifically, it feels like the track that for all intents and purposes introduced the world to Stars, Nightsongs‘ “Counting Stars on the Ceiling.” The spoken sample is in French again, and the mood of the music is similar. This is what makes “No One Is Lost” particularly haunting, though: its sonic connections to “Counting Stars…” makes it feel like a bookend, as though “No One Is Lost” is the end chapter. Everyone dies, the song repeats. So, too, do bands. There may not be a better time. This album may be a sign of a band which seems to have lost its spark, but on the other hand, it isn’t quite lost yet. That could be the overarching theme of Stars in general over the last 15 years. For an album which, visually, speaks to youth and vibrant life, it is interesting to think of it as the end of a trajectory. I suppose time will tell. The next Stars album will be in the works soon if it will come at all. It will be interesting to see, if it does, what incarnation will be there.

Alex Lupica (@Alex_Soundtrack) has been in love with music since he was a toddler, despite its infidelities. (Really, music? Nu-metal? How could you!). Alex is Editor-in-Chief at The Daily Soundtrack.

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