Stars went missing for a while. For 13 months they went on a hiatus from touring and fully dedicated themselves to writing and recording until June, when they released their fifth studio album, “The Five Ghosts.”
“We didn’t play any gigs or any shows,” says Evan Cranley, that band’s guitarist, bassist and synth player. “We committed over a year of our lives to capture what we were feeling at the time. It’s a snapshot of who we were and what we were doing.”
Cranley has been touring with Stars for 11 years. He is the main composer for their music. He says he brings a sense of melody and rhythm to the table, stemming from his background as a classical musician as well as a pop and R&B enthusiast.
A Stars song begins with a beat by drummer Pat McGee as well as a score by Cranley and keyboardist Chris Seligman. Then vocalists Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell come in and write lyrics on top of the score. “Everyone has their own piece of the puzzle that adds to the music,” Cranley says.
The dynamic between Cranley and his bandmates is something like having Christmas dinner with your family every day of the week, he says. “Sometimes it’s incredible and sometimes it’s hard,” Cranley says. “Sometimes someone says something that annoys you, you get into a fight and then you hug.”
If his bandmates are his family, the music is their child. He says that the music is the first thing he thinks about when he wakes up and the last thing he thinks about before he sleeps. For any band, a lot is at stake when investing that much time, energy and love into the music. Cranley says that releasing an album often leaves him self-conscious because the band is basically putting itself out there. “It’s a very vulnerable place to be because you open yourself up to criticism, which in this day and age can be devastating.”
The album has received mixed reviews from popular music news websites. A review by Larry Fitzmaurice of Pitchfork showed a sense of disappointment about the album. “This is a sluggish record, and a good deal of the blame rests on the production,” Fitzmaurice wrote. “The mix seems so muddy and poorly executed that you have to wonder who signed off on this stuff.”
On the other hand, Paste and Popmatters seemed to take an overall liking to Stars’ newest album. “Stars’ dramatic arrangements remain very much alive here, their instrumentation gleaming—as always—with allusions somewhere between New Order’s shimmering waveforms and The Smiths’ guitar rock,” wrote Gray Chapman of Paste.
“The Five Ghosts” has familiar motifs found on older Stars albums, but with a colder, synthesized instrumental to interplay with the séance feeling. Some of the songs, like “We Don’t Want Your Body,” are hauntingly upbeat and almost danceable.
“That track was an important one because it breaks the heaviness and the drama and brings you into the lighthearted affair that is pop music,” Cranley says. “Sometimes you can dance to songs that are lyrically a little heady.”
For Stars, the new album and the coming tour are a celebration of the band and all the people who love them. The album catalogs Stars’ history, creating a sense of intimacy for the fans. “If you take care of us, we’ll take care of you,” Cranley says.
Stars is playing with Wild Nothing at the Vic Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 7. Tickets for the 18+ show cost $21.50 plus fees.