After four albums of the same dreamy, subtle, electronica-tinged indie pop, Stars modernized their formula for 2010’s The Five Ghosts and underwhelmed with dance beats heavy on synths and light on enthusiasm. On The North, the Toronto five-piece blends old and new, saving its sound from getting stale without making another apathetic play at assimilating into the ’80s-retro craze. A touch of sonic glitter and melodic energy gives a little kick to the group’s gently grand compositions, and it goes a long way—there’s a fresh, focused vibe across The North, breathing new life into a band that had become a bit of a chore to listen to.
The reinvigoration is immediately apparent on opener “The Theory Of Relativity,” one of the poppiest cuts Stars have ever done. Swirling with the buzz and bubble of synths atop a thumping drum machine, the song surges with a stylish new-wave pulse that’s just restrained enough to avoid blatant trend-pandering. It’s a continuation of the faddish Five Ghosts approach, but by the sparse, airy title track—which drifts on clouds of cooing harmonies by frontman Torquil Campbell and co-vocalist Amy Millan—it’s clear The North intends to tackle a broader variety of methods and moods.
The bridge between past and present is completed on the epic-sounding “Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It,” a bright anthem of jittering electronics, shiny guitars, and thundering percussion. Lyrically, the song’s commentary on romance is uncommonly whimsical; whereas on previous records (and occasionally on this one), Campbell’s views on relationships and love are delivered with a smothering solemnity, here he keeps it sweet and simple. It’s a shift that’s in line with the album’s breezier execution, and a sign of the band’s maturity. On The North, Stars have evolved to match changing times and perspectives, and done so organically.