Over the course of the pandemic closures and lock downs, I really missed live music. Prior to March 2020, I was going to about a show a week. While venues (along with everything else) was locked down in Toronto, I spent a lot of time listening to my records. I loved being eight steps away from my record player while I worked. Some of the most played records during that time were from Stars, an indie band based out of Montreal. Wanting to support them, I joined their Patreon. Little did I know at the time, but that fateful decision (for $7 Canadian or $5 US per month) led to what will likely be (once it arrives later this week), the record that will likely see the most revolutions on my turntable on the days I’m working from home.
From Capelton Hill is Stars’ 9th studio album and is scheduled to be released on May 27, 2022 via Last Gang Records. It was written and recorded during lockdown. The title refers to a town outside of Montreal where vocalist Torquil Campbell’s grandfather built homes in the late 1800s and an area that is untouched by the hustle and bustle of the modern world.
Like their other albums, From Capelton Hill takes the listener on a journey. Somehow it manages to be a collection of 12 new songs while at the same time a retrospective of their career and a peek into how the band is growing, and will likely change in the future.
Being a member of the Stars Patreon, I was treated to many behind-the-scenes videos, posts and demos while the album was being recorded in Montreal. Comparing the demos and clips posted last year to what the final mixes are really shows the evolution of some of the tracks. On a quasi-regular basis, Campbell holds a “Spin Session” where he plays songs from his vast collection and chats with fans. In November and December he started treating the participants to early listens of the new songs.
2004’s Set Yourself on Fire starts with Campbell’s father, actor Douglas Campbell, intoning, “Where there is nothing left to lose, you’ve got to set yourself on fire,” before the intro of the lead track “Your Ex-lover is Dead.” On our journey that is From Capelton Hill, the opening track, Palmistry, opens with a dialogue snippet from the 1964 film Séance On A Wet Afternoon, with a minimal accompaniment, Campbell then starts singing. For the first 45 seconds or so, it’s just him with some keyboards. Then without warning, drummer Patrick McGee comes in to brighten up the tempo. A couple seconds later, the rest of the band joins in to take the song on a completely different trajectory than was expected in those first few moment. Co-lead vocalist, Amy Millan jumps in with beautiful harmonies that make Stars’ sound so unique.
In addition to Campbell and Millan on vocals and McGee on drums, Stars is made up of Evan Cranley on bass, Chris McCarron on lead guitar and Chris Seligman on keyboards. The music was composed between Cranley and Seligman in the first half of 2020; the band tried to record and mix it remotely but it wasn’t working. Once they were able to gather together, everything began to click back into place.
Fans of the band know that they waffle between thoughts of “we are going to be around forever” and “whelp, the music industry sucks, we can’t do this much longer.” “Pretenders,” the second track and lead single, has Milan looking back to when the band first started and how things have progressed in their lives and careers over the past 20 years. Looking back, seeing how they were turned into the people they are today. “Pretenders” is a declaration that the band has what it takes, and despite doubts they know they are in it for the long run.
One thing I love about Stars is that while they have a definite “sound,” each of their albums takes on a unique personality and feel. The songs on From Capelton Hill take aspects from previous efforts, giving credence and acknowledging where the band came from while moving it forward. “Patterns” could have been a song on 2012’s The North. “That Girl” has the deceptively simple, stripped down sound that was found on 2007’s In Our Bedroom After The War. Like many of the tracks on that album, upon second and third listens you realize how deep and complex the song and lyrics really are.
“Build a Fire” is one of my favorite tracks. It has the electro-dance feel that made 2014’s No One is Lost such a fun record to listen to (that and the half neon pink/half black vinyl of the pressing makes it look really cool). I’m not a dancer, but I can’t help but tap my feet and move to the music whenever it comes on.
Throughout From Capelton Hill there is an electricity between Campbell and Millan as they split, share and harmonize on the songs. You can feel the love and admiration they have for each other. Sometimes I wonder if Cranley, who is married to Millan, ever gets jealous of the chemistry that she and Campbell share on the records and on stage.
“If I Never See London Again” is another immensely danceable song, with Campbell and Millan baring their doubts and offering each other strength to make it through whatever comes. Arguably, the band’s biggest song is the aforementioned “Your Ex-Lover is Dead;” the track “Capelton Hill” has the potential to usurp to take its place. It encapsulates everything the group is trying to get across in the rest of the record. Alternating vocals, Millan and Campbell tell a love story for the ages that is universal; I can see it being a very popular wedding song. The song takes place during the closing up of a house or cottage at the end of an annual visit, with memories going back and forth of what happened in years past and expressing hopes for the future. The lyrics seem to allude to their previous albums, either in title or allegory.
I am utterly and totally in love with this album. I want to shout its praises from the roof (although I’m a bit scared of heights). It shows that after 20 years, bands are capable of releasing amazing music that is fresh and not just churned out for the sake of completing a record contract or to squeeze a few bucks out of fans. From Capelton Hill has the potential to grow the band’s fan base to even greater levels.
If, after falling in love with this album (or even before, I’m not going to tell you want to do) you are interested in having your own song; Campbell is taking commissions with a goal to write 100 song for fans about whatever they want; the recipient owns the song and can do with it as they wish. If you are interested, reach out to him on twitter: @torquilcampbell.
Stars will be streaming a release-day performance of From Capelton Hill, from the actual Capelton Hill on Friday, May 27 at 5:00 pm Eastern. Tickets are available on bandcamp. The band has announced that there will be a special Patreon-only post-show special.