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Stars, with the Jim Yoshii Pile-Up

Thursday, November 3, at the Proletariat, 903 Richmond, 713-523-1199.

It may be disconcerting to imagine your musical heroes as damaged goods, but sometimes this "damage" is what ignites that creative spark. Paul Gonzenbach of the Jim Yoshii Pile-Up is no stranger to struggles with inner demons, and his well-chronicled ills have spawned Picks Us Apart, one of the year's best albums. Don't dismiss the Pile-Up's music as simply a collection of self-loathing, depressing songs (even though it is, for sure). This album teems with great pop songs that, despite their subject matter, are perfectly catchy and addictive. Gonzenbach feels that "it's easier to lie to an audience when no one's listening," so concertgoers should prepare for an earful of openhearted honesty and evenhanded indie pop.

Though the lyrics of Canadian pop combo Stars, who headline tonight's show, border on the sappy (they even had an album called Heart, for goodness' sake), their overall sound is anything but. The group's orchestral pop is incredibly catchy and rich, with infectious bass lines and a whole gaggle of strings, horns and noisy synths that would make even the most bitter and jaded ex-lover smile with approval. On Stars' most recent release, Set Yourself on Fire, Torquil Campbell is the pessimistic voice and guiding light behind the ensemble (along with Broken Social Scene's Evan Cranley, who sings on no fewer than five songs). Vocalist Amy Millan adds a touch of beauty to the sing-along harmonies and leads a few of the album's more somber moments ("Sleep Tonight" and "Celebration Guns"). When you can listen to lyrics like "I kissed your throat every time they said it wouldn't last" without cringing, you know there's a magic touch behind those words. Romanticism never sounded so sweet.

 
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