Album Reviews

Stars – From Capelton Hill

(Last Gang/MNRK) UK release date: 27 May 2022

The Canadians’ finest work since Set Yourself On Fire shows off harmony-laden chamber pop that’s melancholy and uplifting all at once

Stars - From Capleton Hill In the mid-2000s, it sometimes seemed like Canada was the centre of the indie-pop world. Whether it be Arcade Fire or Broken Social Scene, Feist or The New Pornographers, or whatever Wainwright you could shake a stick at, everything cool seemed to be centered in or around Montreal.

Stars were very much in the centre of that indie-pop solar system, working with Broken Social Scene and even swapping band members with them sometimes. Although they’ve never quite reached the commercial heights of the likes of Arcade Fire, songs like Your Ex-Lover Is Dead are still revered amongst indie fans of a certain age.

It’s that heyday that’s most frequently recalled on their first album for five years, From Capelton Hill. It’s an album that long-term Stars aficionados will fall in love with instantly, and will no doubt attract a few admirers. So while they’re not exactly breaking any revolutionary ground, it’s never a bad thing to hear a band like Stars go back to basics.

So if you’re a fan of harmony-laden chamber pop that’s melancholy and uplifting all at once, you’ll find much to enjoy on From Capelton Hill. Palmistry makes up for a lovely, breezy opener, with Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan’s voices blending to great effect.

Campbell and Millan share vocal duties equally, often swapping verses as well as harmonising on the choruses. Millan takes the lead on Pretenders, a song about looking back on the indestructibility of youth: “We laid our bets, we made our beds on staying young forever”, and although the melody is irresistibly upbeat, there’s a poignancy in her delivery that can only be brought by someone with the lived experience of a fortysomething.

That feeling of trying to grasp at a nostalgic feeling, and the sadness of never being able to recreate it, is written all over From Capelton Hill. The title track is a particularly great example of that, the bittersweet tale of a family closing up a summer house and reminiscing about how they “fell in the ditch when we stopped for that kiss”. It’s also a song that demonstrates just how good the band are at writing a line which jumps out and punches you straight in the gut: “That feeling in your chest, it isn’t fear, it’s just the passing of the day.”

Lyrically, there’s a surprisingly Anglo-friendly feel to a few of the tracks. Palmistry talks of a woman sleeping in her car at Beachy Head, while the self-explanatory If I Never See London Again is reminiscent of The Blue Nile, with its synths and programmed drum machines. Like the rest of the album, it excels in that air of weary romanticism that Stars do so well. Elsewhere, there are nods to the dancefloor on Build A Fire, while Hoping begins like The Killers circa Hot Fuss, which is never a bad thing. Yet they never lose track of the emotional impact of their songwriting, with acoustic closer Snowy Owl, Torquil Campbell’s tale of a couple still clinging to each other through unhappy times (“One more stupid fight, then I can kiss you”) making for an affecting closer.

It’s a record which will make a fine introduction to Stars for any newcomers, while long-term fans will hail it as their finest work since Set Yourself On Fire. At its essence, From Capelton Hill is a distillation of what makes Stars so great.

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More on Stars
Stars – From Capelton Hill
Stars – No One Is Lost
Stars – In Our Bedrooms After The War