STARS with MATTHEW BARBER and RAISING THE FAWN at the El Mocambo (464 Spadina), Saturday (February 15). $10-$12. 416-777-1777. Rating: NNNNN
these are grim times to be preaching about leading a soft revolution. While George Bush obsesses about empire building and North Korea threatens to reduce the U.S. to ash, Stars' ambitious plan of making self-described beautiful music can sound like it was beamed in from another planet.
The Montreal/Toronto pop quartet is unrelenting, though. The excellent and elegant pop music on Stars' new Heart disc is driven by the belief that sometimes the punkest thing you can do is be a softie.
"The world continues to get more and more mad, and I can't tolerate it any more," Stars vocalist Torquil Campbell explains. "In our own tiny way, we were trying to scream out that the meek are getting ready. At least in our art we're going to try to make the world beautiful.
"I don't care whether people say we're pussies. If they've decided to cut themselves off from the kind of art that makes you feel like a child, they're losing out."
Pop politics aside, Heart marks a massive leap forward for Stars. After launching as a bedroom studio duo featuring Campbell and multi-instrumentalist Chris Seligman, Stars doubled in size, adding bassist Evan Cranley and vocalist/guitarist Amy Millan.
With the added personnel has come a much broader sound. Heart dispenses with the pared-down 80s synth pop of Stars' Nightsongs debut in favour of a more arranged, elaborate pop design. Lyrically and musically, this is music that aims straight for the, uh, heart.
"Our strongest card is that Stars started as a very specific philosophical idea, and it will always have that core," Campbell offers. "Musically, though, we're going to go places we're not expected to go. The first record was such a strong genre statement that people attached us to something we weren't all that attached to. Pop music is what's important to me, and that can be all sorts of things, from Sebadoh to Christina Aguilera. Somewhere in between we're finding our territory.
"We've been very influenced in the past few years by bands like the Delgados and the Flaming Lips. They're really trying to bring people to moments of transcendence, not just give them music that's cool to listen to."
In the era of nu-metal, ponderous alt-rock bellowing and war-mongering, is there an audience for Stars' soft touch? You only need to look to last year's overwhelming success of Stars pals Broken Social Scene to realize that, at least in Toronto, the time of the soft revolution is at hand.
"We seem to have connected -- bands like Broken Social Scene, us, the Dears, the Constantines, K-OS and the Hidden Cameras," Campbell agrees excitedly. "People are craving a real scene, where the bands believe in what they're saying and those involved really love each other.
"We're trying to organize a big show called This Place Is Beautiful with all these bands at Massey Hall. All these artists know each other and understand their relationship to each other. It's really fucking cool to be living here right now."firstname.lastname@example.org