A reader recently tipped me off that Torquil Campbell, of Stars, was living in Vancouver. They’d heard him talking on the CBC, upbraiding the network for not employing him full-time. I immediately asked the internet if this was true (it is) and I came across this feature where Campbell ranks, from best to worst, the band’s ten albums.
I own a single Stars record, The North (2012). I didn’t special order it, rather I came across a used copy at a record shop in Vernon B.C. Still, the paucity of Stars product in my collection is not an indication of my assessment of the band’s musical value. It is more to do with Stars singularity; and, to a lesser extent, the apex of the band’s career coinciding with the nadir of vinyl production. Campbell himself makes this point about Heart the band’s 2003 album, which was recorded in Montreal. Heart Campbell ranks Heart his favourite record, the essential Stars statement. He is grateful the record has resonated enough through the years to recently receive its first—ever-release on vinyl.
My record collection is rife with this problem. Huge temporal swathes have been cut down by technological obsolescence, in particular the demise of the compact disc. CDs became complete junk so quickly. I am reminded of this each morning as I write. In the branches of the tree, in the back yard of the pink house across the alleyway, are tied dozens of CDs. They sparkle in the sun. It is an innovative use of junk. Many bands’ careers got junked in the changeover. I am always relieved when bands popular in the early aughts (when record production had ceased entirely)—get their vinyl re-birth.
Star’s absence from my material record collection destabilized my memory. I forget that I played this record constantly for several years, endlessly on repeat. I didn’t grow sick of it. I lost the CD. Then the various illegally downloaded files I’d acquired of it vanished whenever a device—an Ipod, an ugly and cumbersome desktop computer—became obsolete. I never grew sick of Stars. They just got lost in all the change.
Hastings-Sunrise: innovative users of obsolescent audio formats. Pictured here--the decorative tree CD.
Stars cause me taxonomical confusion. Campbell stresses the band’s connection to Montreal. He seems to valorize the place as uniquely responsible for great flourishing of creativity that existed in the Mile End of this era. And, while it is true, that the one and only time I saw Stars was in Montreal, for the CD release of Heart, I tend to forget that they lived and recorded in the city at the same time (and in the same studio) as Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade. Even if I saw Stars in Montreal, I had been listening to them since their debut CD, when I still lived in Western Canada. I thought of them as the best Canadian tweepop band in existence. I regarded them as the Canadian equivalent of Club 8 (Sweden); Death Cab for Cutie (West Coast, USA) mixed with Ivy (East Coast, USA); and Trembling Blue Stars (England).
Campbell says that the band’s first record sold 75 copies. I owned one of them. A good friend of mine, then teaching ESL in Japan, owned another. I know this because we sent each other mixed CDs, at the same time, each containing Stars’ cover of The Smiths’ “This Charming Man”. Before it became indie, twee was a world so fragile and small it’s a wonder it survived at all. I suppose because I was already a fan of the band before the band ever lived in Montreal, I stubbornly, if unintentionally, refuse to connect them to that city.
I think a lot of Montreal felt the same way.
When I saw them at Sala Rossa for the Heart CD release, Broken Social Scene was the opener. Of my friends, I alone was there to see Stars. Everyone else could not stop talking about Broken Social Scene. Stars was a pop band. Broken Social Scene was a rock band. Choose your side I’ll choose my side. My side—the tweepop side—was outnumbered all over the room. I’m not even sure that Stars were bad. But Broken Social Scene was better by incalculable magnitudes. And it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. It was not a Stars crowd from the get-go. I cheered an extra lot that night to try and even things out, but it was no use. I still don’t even know how to whistle.