The North, the latest release from Canadian indie-pop outfit Stars, is a comfortably familiar record—but when each of your past four albums has earned either a Juno or a Polaris nomination, familiarity is likely a good thing. From the sampled voice clip that opens the album to the guy-girl lyrical interplay, The North is quintessential Stars: It’s layered with lush pads and delicate vocals, tinged with the U.K. ’80s alt-rock influence that coloured previous efforts, and quite reminiscent of the band’s synth-heavy 2010 LP, The Five Ghosts.
But the collection of recognizable elements does nothing to take away from the album’s individual merit. The pulsating kick drum and endless strata of sweeping arpeggios on opener “Theory of Relativity” could give MGMT a run for their money, while the Metric-like “Backlines” is a showcase of Amy Millan’s singing ability. She shares lead vocal duties with band frontman and songwriter Torquil Campbell throughout the album, and the two are at their best in melodic conversation, harmonizing with and answering one another atop airy, reverberating instrumentation and tasteful percussion.
And when the frenetic energy is stripped away, they offer up something like the hauntingly beautiful, piano-led ballad,“The 400.” Together, The North’s 12 tracks feel like a natural, if subtle, progression of Stars’ sound, and should be more than enough to earn the band another Polaris nod in 2013.
Playlist picks: “Theory of Relativity,” “Backlines,” “A Song Is aWeapon,” “The 400”