The wistful Canadian indie-pop band Stars built its fanbase smushing dance music and indie pop into an endearingly awkward embrace. Set Yourself On Fire, their 2005 high mark, found the perfect midpoint between the squirm and the hip-shake. The North, the band’s sixth full-length studio album, carries right along in this tradition. Beats range from pitter-pattering to hammering, while jangling guitars share space with synths. And the band’s two singers, Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan, take turns singing lead when they’re not delivering lyrics in conversational rounds.
The album on the whole has a vaguely retro bent. Awash in reverb and shot through gently with Millan’s cooing vocals, the hazy “Through the Mines” sounds like vintage Mazzy Star. “Lights Changing Colour” could’ve been an old Cocteau Twins demo, while a rave-up called “Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Get It” has the soaring, synthetic thrill of Cut Copy at its best.
And yet it’s the kicker, “Walls,” that takes fullest advantage of Campbell and Millan’s boy-girl interplay. Campbell has the kind of delightfully fey accent that turns “party” into “pahty,” and Millan sings in a breathy coo that can melt a record clerk’s heart, and together they come off as an indie-rock answer to Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, singing back and forth. Him: “I had a secret.” Her: “Yeah but I knew it, love.” Him: “And we were children.” Her: “We danced to ‘Hand in Glove.’” On it goes, with a chirping keyboard and a beat that won’t sit still and a relationship drama unfolding before your ears.