Label Year is a feature in which I purchase all of the releases of a given record label for an entire calendar year and post on each one. 2011 will be devoted to Arts & Crafts out of Toronto. For more info, check out the introduction.
- Artist: Stars
- Title: The Bedroom Demos
- Format: Digital Album
- Release Date: 06/07/2011
- Catalog Number: ACX069
Of all the bands I have profiled so far in this feature on Arts & Crafts, Stars is the most strongly connected to label-founding band Broken Social Scene. Evan Cranley made significant contributions to Feel Good Lost, not the least of which is being the namesake of my favorite track on the album, closer "Cranley's Gonna Make It." He has performed on subsequent albums. Amy Millan is even more recognizable, as she has been one of the group's vocalists for tours and most prominently on the Broken Social Scene album. Torquil Campbell (also in Memphis, which released the album Here Comes A City earlier this year) and Chris Selgiman have also appeared on record and live, along with Amy and Evan.
This release notwithstanding, Stars is no longer on Arts & Crafts, incidentally. They put out an album The Five Ghosts last year on their own label. Nevertheless, before they left, In Our Bedroom After The War, the album of which we are hearing the initial version, was one of A&C's most significant releases. After the success of Set Yourself On Fire, anticipation was high for the follow-up. So high, in fact, that A&C took the step of making the album available digitally about 3 months before the physical product. When that did come out, it included a bonus DVD. It is fitting then, that The Bedroom Demos is also a digital release.
Something that always amazes me about creative works is that all of them go through multiple iterations before the version the public consumers get comes out. There are drafts, deleted scenes, and demos aplenty. I've experienced this personally just with writing papers and stories during my academic career. You can redo something in perpetuity, really. Comparing this release to the original album has been very fascinating to me: seeing what stayed similar, what changed significantly, and just getting a better sense of how the record In Our Bedroom After the War came to be.
I am not the first to say this – though I will say I didn't need to read it to think it – but there is a strong show-tune, Broadway element to the music of Stars, particularly on In Our Bedroom After the War. It is essentially a musical that blows relationships to epic proportions, equating them to battles we all win and lose daily. The vocals are often theatrical, particularly on the duets, and the music has a certain sheen and bombast to it that makes it easy to imagine it coming from an orchestra pit. To me, this is enjoyable, because we all have times when we relate to the melodramatic, particularly when we are unlucky in love. Some of the hooks sink in incredibly deep, both musically and lyrically; the band clearly has gifts for finding the beauty of devastation.
The biggest revelation of The Bedroom Demos is getting to hear the songs with a little less polish and a little more bite. Ultimately, the two versions are not so drastically different. In terms of songs, the final version has an opening track called "The Beginning After the End," not on the demos, and the demos include "Division (Monkees)," and "The Worst Thing (Whitey Jam)," which are not on the album – listen to the latter above. Otherwise, we get two versions of the twelve main songs. Some differences are obvious. For instance, "Midnight Coward" is sung solely by Amy, which changes the subtext of this tune about a one-night stand by being told from only one person instead of both. It is unclear if the duet was always planned, or if the band realized adding a male perspective would make a more compelling story – or at least one more in line with the whole "love as a battlefield" theme. On the other hand, "Personal" and "Life 2: The Unhappy Unending," are sung only by Torquil, but done with altered tones that make it seem more placeholder than permanent. This seems especially true with the falsetto used for the part of Caroline on "Personal."
I'm going to do a brief song-by-song comparison. "The Night Starts Here" is much rougher on Demos, particularly with the fuzz bass that comes on the chorus. Cleaning it up served the song better. "Take Me to the Riot" is quite similar sounding; it has a little more punch on the album version, probably from extra guitar tracks. I prefer "My Favourite Book" on Demos because it doesn't have the "do-do's" behind the chorus that make it a little too smooth and lounge-y for me. Also, there's a guitar solo instead of violin. This version had a working title of "Flack," by the way.
Besides only Amy singing, "Midnight Coward," has much more of an echo sound in the vocals, which seems to be the case throughout the Demos. My guess is this is due to a recording and/or mixing aspect, but I really don't know a lot about this sort of thing. Anyways, the drums also are stronger on this track. I like that the band kept in the little yelp leading into the first chorus. "Ghosts of Genova Heights" has way stronger drums and a much more distinct, textured guitar on Demos. Besides its all-Torquil-ness (that's clunky, sorry), "Personal" (working title "Caroline") has a sharper organ part, which I do like better.
"Barricade" is pretty similar on both versions, though the album adds a little extra to it, with some chants and some accordion at the interlude and outro. With its revolutionary and political tones, I think of this song as a cousin to "Baby I'm an Anarchist" by Against Me. "Window Bird" is also sort of like its album version. I feel it may be a little slower, with more bass, closer vocals, and a cleaner outro. "Bitches in Tokyo" (working title "Fuck U I Love You") is a particularly interesting case. The two versions differ in run time by more than one minute. This is one of my favorite songs on the album and I always wondered why it's so short. Now that I've heard the demo, it seems like it wasn't meant to be. After the second chorus, there is an instrumental break that sounds like the verses. Then it goes into the chorus two more times before ending. Almost as if that break between choruses was meant for a future verse that, for whatever reason, never got written. Check it out.
Stars – Bitches in Tokyo (from In Our Bedroom After the War)
Stars – Bitches in Tokyo (Fuck U I Love You) (from The Bedroom Demos)
"Life 2: Unhappy Ending" (working title "Film Score") is another example of the stronger, louder drums on the demo version. We also get a sense of what kind of things get added after the foundation of a song are laid down: there are no chimes on the chorus for example. It makes sense that these little touches would come later. "Today Will Be Better, I Swear!" (working title "Flaming") is the other song with a big difference in run time. While it does have a bit bigger sound, in the organ and the chorus overall, this version ends without the extend outro. I prefer the album version for this reason, I especially like the drum part and the dreaminess of it. Now, the demo version of "In Our Bedroom After the War," builds up epically just as the album version does, but the release to instrumentation of primarily dual guitars (that remind me of parts of "Undone" and "Only in Dreams" by Weezer, very cool) and the self-harmonized vocals, are not as grand as the full-on choir and a mixture of guitar, horns, drums, and so forth. It was clear everything was leading to a huge finale, you can hear this progression as the band pushing themselves to actualize it.
As for the tracks only on one version, "The Beginning After the End" is a nice intro (and perhaps sheds light on a possible Torquil Campbell calling card, for there was also a brief, instrumental intro track on Here Comes a City) and the poem seems like an appropriate overture. I'm disappointed that "Division (Monkees)" didn't make the album, this demo version is really great. It finds the band in a much looser spirit – so it probably wouldn't have quite fit thematically – and it's really infectious. The bass and Amy's vocal melody go together well on the verse and the "Always" of the chorus is killer. Really good guitar solo on it too. The other track is not quite as great, though no slouch. "The Worst Thing (Whitey Jam)" features Andrew Whiteman (aka the Apostle of Hustle and BSS mainstay), and is an overwrought story of a middle-schooler's first heartbreak. The humor lies in how much the singer blows things out of proportion when his best friend ends up with the girl he likes, and the kicker is the ending female response where the girl, now older and wiser, confesses to having forgotten both boys long ago. It's a detailed and well-written story, makes me think of the Decemberists.
For me, the big takeaways from this are, first, getting insight into the artistic process from seeing how a song changes over time. I liked having a comparison. I found that I prefer a few demo versions, but I can see why the band went the direction they did and feel they probably have to be happy with what they ultimately captured. Additionally, I see now that Memphis isn't all too different than Stars. It's a little more modest, but Torquil Campbell is still very much a dramatic performer who likes to inhabit his characters and emote a lot when he sings. The music of Memphis is a little more indie-rock than pop. One cool comparison was that Daniel Handler (accordion player on "Barricade") also wrote a little short story distilling the essence of this album as well. The packaging of In Our Bedroom After the War is great – besides the DVD, the lyrics are each on a card that forms a puzzle/poster of the album's artwork.
This effectively catches me up on the A&C releases, the next will be Dan Mangan's album Oh Fortune, due September 27th. It's an exciting fall coming up, with that plus new music from Feist and Los Campesinos! My next post will be on This Book Is Broken by Stuart Berman, trying to do some other things to fill in around the new music, because this label has a lot worth exploring.
Previously on Label Year:
- Broken Social Scene Concert Review (9.8.11 @ Williamsburg Waterfront, Brooklyn, NY)
- Chilly Gonzales The Unspeakable Chilly Gonzales
- Zeus "Permanent Scar / The Darkness"
- Timber Timbre Creep On Creepin' On (+ "Black Water" / "Ferriswheel")
- Ra Ra Riot "Too Dramatic"
- Memphis Here Comes A City
- Chilly Gonzales "You Can Dance"
- Chikita Violenta Tre3s