Set Yourself on Fire
/arts & crafts; 2005/


There is a binary of acceptance and exclusion in regards to the status of certain Montreal bands within the public sphere.  Where some bands are universally acknowledged and praised, there are even more that have to fight to maintain their rank in the hoopla.  Bands like The Unicorns and Arcade Fire can coast on in victory while others, although managing a degree of success, have to battle the forces after not having received rave, unanimous reviews.  The problems run from these bands being ‘too experimental’ for mainstream audiences to, in fact, the exact opposite.  Some are just too damn honest.  Some keep their original Smiths tee’s in pristine condition.  The Dears -- and more recently, Stars -- are both perfect examples of this.  Both are fairing well nowadays, but it’s unfortunate that theirs was an uphill battle lasting much longer than their more successful counterparts.  Both bands have remained underrated since their beginnings (perhaps more so for The Dears), and have had to deal with all kinds of criticism.  ‘Ridiculous,’ ‘overwrought’ and ‘self absorbed’ are just a few of the tags that have been thrown their way.  Overwrought? -- maybe.  Ridiculous?  Heck no.

Chalk it up to the bands honesty and romanticism, which has not waned since Nightsongs.  I saw them in concert here in Toronto (with my girlfriend) and they were as melancholic as ever, the lot of them a sad bunch of hopeless romantics.  I also noticed just how tight they are as musicians; Evan Cranley and Pat McGee, kudos to you both.  Like The Dears (I guess I should have known better) watching these guys stretch their instrumental legs in concert was something to behold.  People call the Stars a pop band but The New Pornographers they ain’t.  Sure, all their songs revolve around love and heartbreak, but a lot of the music, especially on Set Yourself On Fire, dips more into the realms of MBV-ish layers (“Ageless Beauty”) and quiet boy/girl duets (“The Big Fight”) or even toeing the waters of dance (“What I’m Trying To Say”).  I guess what I’m trying to say (!) is that the band is not nearly as derivative as some of you skeptics may think. 

You know you don’t own too many modern records like this that wear their hearts on their sleeves (oh wait, I forgot Arcade Fire made it cool again), so why not give it a shot here and see how embracing your romantic side feels in this day and age.  I love Smiths/Suede too, but you can’t tell me you don’t look at your reflection in the subway window while listening to Dog Man Star, and not feel a little out of place with the young hot bodies rocking their vintage tee’s (yes, I know yours is real) sitting next to you, talking about their fav track on Funeral.  Time to get with the times, even if they are a revision of something you’ve already gone through.  But also, who’s to say that bands like Stars aren’t creating something new from the palette.  “He Lied About Death” is a crazy amalgam of horns and keyboards; it’s like a noise-dance hybrid that will move your indie feet.  Set Yourself On Fire is every bit as good as Heart, and Stars, like the beaver, are one of Canada’s hot commodities.

- Andrew Iliadis

/apr 15th 2005/