We review the two hottest indie rock releases of the summer — Stars’  The Five Ghosts and The Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs and deem how they stack up to each other and the bands’ past work.

Formed by former members of Broken Social Scene, Stars is an indie rock juggernaut.  The last couple years have brought the band radio play on alternative and college stations.  The band has pioneered the rebirth of chamber pop and the rise of indie electronica.

The band’s first full-length, Nightsongs was very artificial, synth-filled, and rocked a bit like the efforts of French rockers Air.  Set Yourself on Fire, the followup, showcased a more evolved infectiously contagious uptempo sound.  It rocked a bit like Architecture in Helsinki’s debut.  Emotionally, the tone was sentimental and heartbroken.  In Our Bedroom After the War continued the band’s evolution showcasing a more uniform and melodic style.  Emotionally the tone shifted towards being more tired and resigned.

With the band’s ever-evolving style, we expected something interesting and different with The Five Ghosts.

Indeed, the band has yet again reinvented itself in a bit of a new direction.  While the staples — pulsing electronic chamber pop melodies and male/female traded vocals — remain, the album is softer, yet more lo-fi in feel than In Our Bedroom… Emotionally, the mood has shifted to nostalgia and air of mystery.

The album’s biggest upside is that it clearly illustrates that Stars is still able to produce some of the catchiest independent rock in the business.  The downside is that those looking for a cohesive album may be a bit taken a bit aback by tracks like “We Don’t Want Your Body” and “Changes” which depart from the album’s central sound.

Overall much of the album is themed, though, around ghosts and haunting.  The title also illustrates the band’s fascination with the number “five”, which was previously showcased in Set Yourself on Fire‘s standout track “The First Five Times”.

At the end of the day, the bottom line is that there’s no really poor tracks on The Five Ghosts and it’s a very mature album, if lacking the cohesiveness of a proper deployed theme album.

Rocks Like: The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead, The Arcade Fire’s Funeral, or Architecture in Helsinki’s Fingers Crossed, Everything But The Girl’s Walking Wounded

Rating: **** / 5

Label: Soft Revolution (Star’s private label, Canada only); Vagrant (worldwide)

Stars: The Five Ghosts
“Dead Hearts”
Lovely and melodic, this track offers a fine introduction to Stars for the uninitiated and sends that familiar tingle across the skin of those who have listened prior.

“Wasted Daylight”
This track showcases the uptempo quality instrumentation that backs many Stars songs.  The lyrics are of only average appeal.  But Millan’s voice, as always, is strong.

“I Died So I Could Haunt You”
After a slow start this song really takes off.  The lyrics “I died so I could have you/I died so I could haunt you” will definitely stick in your head.  The vocal ending is poignant and… er haunting.

“Fixed”
The first single off the album, this track is Stars at its finest — rolling, melodic, nostalgic, and instilling a sense of quiet anticipation.  Imagine a panic attack meets a F. Scott Fitzgerald silent movie.  Five years from now, this will be looked back upon as a modern classic.

“We Don’t Want Your Body”
This song sounds strangely out of place in the rest of the album thus far.  The vocals by Campbell and Millan are decidedly sharper and less rounded than the rest of the tracks.  The track employs 80s-esque stylings.  Despite the fact that it doesn’t really fit with the general feel of the album, it’s still a catchy and impressive song.  In fact it may appeal to those who don’t like the Stars sound in general.

“He Dreams He’s Awake”
Lo-fi and pulsing, this burner features almost a minute of voiceless instrumentation, and slowly swells to a climatic crescendo of sound.

“Changes”
Here the back instrumentation, while beautiful seems slightly out of context of the overall album.  Again, it’s hard to find too much fault here, though, because the song features memorable lyrics and Millan’s siren-sweet voice.  The only other complaint here is that the song length is a little dragged out leaving you a bit bored by the end of the track.

“The Passenger”
Poppier and a bit more cheerful, this song is yet another example of a bit different sound found on the album.  Rocks kind of like the Eurythmics.

“The Last Song Ever Written”
This beautiful piece is a prime candidate for the album’s second single.  Quieter, it delivers a gripping and heart-wrenching monologue.

“How Much More”
Pretty average track, carries the album along, but isn’t particularly memorable.  In tone and lyrics it’s more cohesive, though, with the album’s overall feel.

“Winter Bones”
“All I’ve known/Is that there is an end/” — pretty appropriate for a final track, eh?  Millan’s vocals stand out on this track, which nicely caps the album.  Leaves you remembering the rest of the album — just what it should do.

Bonus Tracks/Other Tracks:
“You Do It to Me and I Do It to You Too” (ft. Album Leaf)
This rolling track is only available (officially) via iTunes preorders, but it rocks!  An interesting mix of uptempo and soft slower beats, it doesn’t exactly fit the album (a likely reason for the cut) but is a catchy ride.  It’s kind of hard to hear the Album Leaf’s character here, but Stars is likely the more appealing band, so that’s of debatable merits.

“Asleep”
A cover of The Smiths’ classic, its hard not to like this song.  Makes you realize just how much Stars’ lyricism was inspired by Morrisey’s.  This rare track is found on the album’s 7″ and a compilation album (Indie Lullabies).

“Opinions Versus The Sun”
More ambient and electronic, this track is an interesting new sounds for Stars, probably left as a B-side of the album.

“The Five Ghosts”
This is a single right?  Definitely the highlight of the second disk, this song is very much in the album’s theme and pulls the user in lyrically.

“The Black House, The Blue Sky”
Rocks somewhat like Erasure or Everything But the Girl.  Again Stars owns this track, and it’s a bit of different direction.

“The Dead Beg for More”
An encore to close the second disk, this track’s instrumentation captures a bit o’ Of Montreal flavor and funk.  The frantic fade out really is distinctive Of Montreal business.  Probably of all the collaborative tracks, this is the finest.

…stay tuned for our followup on The Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs.  Is it a hot disc or a summer flop?  Let’s just say we have some interesting thoughts to that end…