Stars’ Robots fails to wow newcomers

Our neighbors to the north have sent us yet another group of talented musicians. With track themes ranging from melancholic to downright dark, Sad Robots, the EP released earlier this month by Canadian pop band Stars, at first appears to be a much darker work than its listeners will find it to be.

Truthfully, this six-track record offers far more in the startling chemistry between vocalists Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan than in any particular track.

Miraculously, Campbell and Millan, despite the incredible respective talent of each, apparently don’t feel the need to outdo one another. A verse sung by one flows seamlessly into one sung by the other, and there isn’t a poorly sung line to be found on the whole album.

But while the songwriting continues to be on par with what fans expect from this offshoot of indie rock band Broken Social Scene, there isn’t a whole lot to be gained from Sad Robots that Stars hasn’t already produced.

The 2007 In Our Bedroom After The War was extremely well received for its creative concept and brilliant composition.

However, it may be unfair to compare a full-length like In Our Bedroom to the relatively short Sad Robots, which only clocks in at about twenty minutes.

The incredible “A Thread Cut With A Carving Knife” starts with stumbling percussion and slick electronic work and ends with a climactic eight-line repeating coda building to a crescendo capped off with supporting guitar.

The clear winner on this album, though, is the quieter “Going, Going, Gone.” Stars has been performing this track live for a few years, and it first appeared on their 2001 album Nightsongs. However, this version is definitely an improvement over the first.

Unfortunately, there’s not much else to note about Sad Robots beyond these two tracks. The other four, while fit to be alongside anything else in Stars’ discography, are rather forgettable.

The opening track, “Maintenance Hall, 4am,” is two minutes of drab, repetitive electronic bass and ambient effects, but judging by the name of the track, that may have been exactly what the band was aiming for.

“Undertow” is solid but fails to hold attention beyond a rudimentary listen, and “14 Forever” is a ponderous song about summer love that seems to spin around and around, overwhelmed with empathy for the song’s subjects, as it repeats its chorus.

The album closer, “Sad Robot,” is a curious little number sung in French that, if the song title is taken as a literal interpretation, actually makes some humorous sense.

The sentimentality and innocence of the track makes it feel like the saddest track of the album, though perhaps it’s the most cryptic for those of us with monolinguistic ears that can’t recognize the repeating line “I cry, I cry.” Regardless, if the song title isn’t enough to clue the listener in, the prevailing mood of the song certainly is.

Current fans of Stars won’t find anything too surprising with this latest effort, nor will they regret picking up this album. Neither, though, should newcomers expect to be won over instantly. Sad Robots, with its more experimental style, is less musically accessible than In Our Bedroom After The War, and the shorter length means listeners coming “fresh” to Stars may walk away before giving the album time to be appreciated.

Fans of the aforementioned Broken Social Scene will find a softer, less defiant vocalist in Amy Millan and an album that eschews the band’s rock roots for a more electronic sound.

In that sense, it may be better to think of Stars as being closer to The Postal Service and Death Cab For Cutie than any of the band members’ side projects.

Overall, Sad Robots comes highly recommended for Stars’ existing fan base, but new listeners will do themselves a favor by passing this up and first giving the longer, more accessible In Our Bedroom After The War a try. Those to which it appeals will find themselves picking up Sad Robots, and the rest of Stars’ eight-year discography, in short order.