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Stars

Stars end the liner notes to their 2003 album Heart with the following words of advice: "Impeach George Bush! Kill the bastard in your life with love." Good thing the band hails from Montreal, where they don't have to worry about some John Ashcroft-type hunting them down for sedition. The Attorney General can rest easy though. Stars are indeed beating the drums of revolution, but they're much more concerned with spreading that crazy little thing called love.

This is not a band that buries its message in random artwork or cryptic lyrics. Heart, the Montreal quartet's sophomore outing, features titles like "What the Snowman Learned About Love", "Elevator Love Letter" and "Time Can Never Kill The True Heart". A sample lyric: "Hold my hand so you don't fall/Catch your breath as the gulls call/One heart out of two/One life me and you." They coat it all with pretty electro-pop music centered around warm and toasty boy-girl vocals. The foursome once lived in New York, but moved north when they formed the band. It leads you to wonder what the Canadians put in their water (or their drugs).

Despite all of this, Stars somehow manage to keep the sap quotient low, and the music's beautiful craftsmanship places them worlds apart from any teen idol singing about similar topics with a lot less substance. Listening to the band is like soaking in a warm bubble bath, one so cozy you could melt into the tub. Addictive hooks and elegant melodies create a perfect synthesis with the dreamy voices of leads Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan. The two take turns at the mic, but sound their best as a harmonizing duo.

On first listen, most of Stars' music wouldn't sound incredibly out of place on your "Best of the '80s" mix tape due to its baseline disco-synth texture, but lots of subtle layers exist and you'll soon discover surprises upon repeated listens. This puts Stars in an elite group of artists making pop music that dares to challenge the listener. (Members of the band are also in the revolving Canadian collective Broken Social Scene, which released one of the best albums of last year, You Forgot It In People). This complexity is probably enough to keep the band from becoming too mainstream. In fact, Heart was recently nominated for Best Alternative Album (not Best Pop album) at the Juno Awards, Canada's version of the Grammys.

If chicken pot pie is comfort food, Stars make comfort music for the indie rock set. It's not the most amazing thing you've ever listened to, but you'll find it consistently satisfying. If you don't fall madly in love with it at first, soon you won't be sure exactly what to do without it, and it feels great to fold yourself into its warm embrace time and again.

The conclusion? A healthy dose of Stars is good for the soul. Maybe the band can do us all some good and just send the President a copy of their CD.