Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Rusty Tears and Malfunctioning Heart Parts: Stars' Sad Robots EP

Largely unbeknownst to me (I've really been doing well keeping abreast of new music lately), Stars released an EP entitled Sad Robots EP on September 1, which can be sampled and purchased via their beautifully crafted Sad Robots site. The site asks you if you are indeed a sad robot upon entry, and its fantastic Victorian industrial revolution aesthetic makes me very happy to be a sad robot. As stated before on this blog, I really love Stars because of their bittersweet lyrics and brilliant pop melodies, but I think I was also ready for this return to some of their original electronic impulses, and this return may cause more recent fans of Stars and their last two albums to look into Stars' earlier work.

The opening track, Maintenance Hall, 4AM, hums with the steam of mechanized industry as a piano plays out a melancholic melody and a robotic voice creeps in periodically. Listening to the music, I can just imagine the space where robots are repaired, where a heart is just another part to be replaced. The following track is a sparkling song called A Thread Cut With a Carving Knife, which along with the rest of the EP, recalls the electronic influences more apparent on Stars first album, Nightsongs. As per their characteristic style, Torquil Campbell and Amy Milan's gentle voices narrate a love affair and its resulting heartbreak, and the song seems to swell and surge about them like a dirigible balloon only to burst around them in ribbons of feedback and white noise. On the track Undertow, Milan's lovely voice converses with itself as the vodcoderized refrain of "When will it stop?" pulses against the rest of the verses like legs kicking against the tide. It also features that laidback groovy beat that several of Stars' earlier songs did, but with augmentation by expansive synths.

The track Going, Going, Gone is an older song (actually off Nightsongs), but is listed as being a live track (despite its non-live sound) on this EP and it is the one song available for free download off the Sad Robots Web site. It has been modified from a rather sparse arrangement into a crystalline synthy piece, and Campbell takes on a few more lines. While the original version of track feels lonelier, this new incarnation feels like more of an emotional struggle with its stuttering drum machines; the narrator hasn't completely surrendered yet. 14 Forever is one of those fantastic paeans to the bliss and promise of youth and features the most joyful music on the EP, adding the sweet balance to the bitter tears shed in the other tracks. The EP ends appropriately with Sad Robot, which repeats the couplet "Il pleut, je pleure" that uses the wordplay to full effect against a background littered with bleeps and bloops as though a circuitboard is slowly being corrupted by water and going under.

This EP is a beautiful concept and I look forward to see and hear whether the next full-length album will take any cues from this shift in direction. All of us melancholic automatons would be so happy.

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