by Joan Hiller

Stars

Wed March 3

Berbati's Pan

10 SW 3rd

These days, when blatant sentimentality is a band's sole raison d'etre, the cynics scoff. Thus, even the most artistic bands balance sap with weightier subject matter. But Stars, a Toronto-based four piece on Canada's booming Arts and Crafts label, won't go there. Tellingly, their second album is simply titled Heart; as with their like-minded (but inferior) first album Nightsongs, the gooshiness displayed on sleeves reminds us that sometimes, sentiment is the most important subject matter EVER.

The albums are sugar pop, and their tales of modern-day longing, lust, and miscommunication between lovers is extract-strong. Even before the first note sounds, each member introduces him- or herself by name, then declares, "and this is my heart." A bold proclamation with no apologies, the entire album's more confident and drop-dead serious than your first boyfriend ever was, ingrained in your memory as he might be. And, because all their jams are total hitsville, this works to Stars' distinct advantage. In the same vein as other bands producer Ian Catt has worked with (Saint Etienne, Trembling Blue Stars), and some he hasn't (Camera Obscura, Delgados), Stars' compositions are rendered with a squeaky-clean fullness; perfect, slow burns; and joyful pop hook payoffs.

Live, Stars are acupuncture--nerves are pinned, electricity zaps across the club, everyone's swan-swaying and eye-squinting. Singer Amy Millan comes off like a less animated Jenny Lewis or a more sane and channeled Chan Marshall during her spotlight songs, like "New Order." The boys sing just as pretty--founding members Chris Seligman and Torquil Campbell affect their pipes that are just enough to come off like the macho-est kind of sappy. Although they're without the physical brass and string ensembles that appear in their recorded work, Stars drizzle live pop over pre-recorded flourishes, and it's delicious. That's how sugar is supposed to be, right?