The sweeping pop of Stars and the slow burn of My Brightest Diamond makes for a compelling bill. Info/tix
Across eight albums and almost 20 years, Stars have turned cinematic pop songwriting into a finely tuned process. The Toronto six-piece's two lead vocalists, Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell, often sing as characters, sometimes recurring ones, amid sweeping instrumental arrangements. This makes many of Stars' songs almost feel like they were taken out of musicals—especially those scenes where multiple characters are in dialogue. This is especially true on the band's latest single, this year's "Are You With Me," on which Campbell sings elegiacally and in the second person to a lost love before trying to reignite that flame. The most compelling moments are when Millan comes in as said lost love, providing harmony at times and joining Campbell in unison on the chorus to repeat of the titular phrase of "Are you with me?" and its variants.
Still, musicals have intermissions, whereas Stars albums do not. When almost all of a record's songs are fixed on capturing the highest and lowest moments of existence—all climax, all the time—it erases all of those in-between mundanities of the day-to-day and can cause emotional fatigue. This is where Stars could take a page from this show's opener, My Brightest Diamond.
The solo project of Detroit vocalist/multi-instrumentalist/producer Shara Nova, MBD joins Stars on the heel of her 2018 album, A Million And One. Like her past records, A Million is content to allow melodies and lyrics ride out and meander, rather than always try to build concrete narratives. Nova's production is also often dark and sparse, with synth chords and syncopated percussion taking up large swaths of songs. Nova's songs can still reach emotional highs amid all that restraint, and she does just that on the hook of "Sway," where she breaks suddenly into the song's chorus with the help of a distorted Chuck Berry-esque guitar riff. But it's effective because she also takes her time to go from one to the other, and in doing so, show us everything in between. —Henry Solo