"Every time I'm in Portland I see a rainbow, every single time," says impish Amy Millan, one of two singer-guitarists for Montreal's Stars. "But that's just how it is for me. I was born with a horseshoe up my ass."
Luck might play some small part in why the band has the winds of success at its collective back as it rolls into town, six members strong. Also credit the fact that the music media is creaming over all things indie-pop and Canadian at the moment, from the Arcade Fire and Metric to Broken Social Scene (which counts a few Stars players among its ranks). There's the incessant touring over the past five years, too, which has created a loyal and swelling fan base across North America.
But it's Stars' brilliant third disc, Set Yourself on Fire, that's really the root of the recent acclaim; the group moves seamlessly through pretty and wistful horn-laden chamber-pop (with the vocal tête-à-tête between Millan and foil Torquil Campbell inspiring more than a few Delgados comparisons); stirring shoegazer bliss; soulful and dreamy torch tunes; and prickly smart Smiths-style jangle.
If the album's title has you thinking of Buddhist monks immolating themselves on the streets of Saigon, some of its lyrics support that vision--"Celebration Guns" is a scathing indictment of the war in Iraq, and the clamorous anti-Bush song "He Lied About Death" rages against the dishonesty of the right in no uncertain terms.
"When we started writing this record, there were millions of people all over the world protesting the war, and their voices don't matter anymore," Millan explains. "And that's very frustrating and upsetting. It makes us just wanna set ourselves aflame and throw our bodies through the windows of the White House, you know? When you're reading the paper every day and watching the bullshit that passes for news, that's what spills out."
Still, the bulk of Fire has more to do with wars of a more personal nature; from "Your Ex-Lover is Dead" to "The Big Fight" it swims in post-breakup malaise, conflict, regret, uncertainty, and the need to move on, which, Millan says, ties into the title's other meaning.
"It's to do with people who keep living their lives out of a fear of change, that they're afraid to shake things up even if they're completely unhappy, so we're just about saying, you know, it's okay to set yourself on fire because then you can start living a new life."