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(Arts And Crafts Records)

It's too late for me now, it really is. A couple years ago if someone would have asked me if I enjoyed pop music, I would have proudly declared an emphatic "no!" I would have gone to my CD shelf and proudly hold something up that was willfully difficult. Something abrasive, something harsh and loud and confrontational and maybe even mean. Over the past several years, though, I've heard music that has melted me several times over, and although it still isn't stuff you'd most likely hear on the radio, it definitely fits into the category of pop music (even though that category is admittingly somewhat difficult to define).

At any rate, Heart is the newest entry from the group Stars (who has some loose affiliations with the group Broken Social Scene), and it's a pop gem. On a couple ocassions, it passes over into territory that's a little too sacarrin even for me, but most of the time it's a candy-coated release that will have melodies stuck in your head and possibly even singing along with lyrics that will make you wince a bit after they've left your mouth.

It would be easy to dismiss the album given the first 2 minutes. First, each member of the group introduces themselves and then states, "this is my heart," before launching into some layered spacey synth melodies that are oh-so-cheesy. On top of that, the name of the track is "What The Snowman Learned About Love." It's just so damn precious that it almost hits the gag reflex, but just about the time you're sick of things, the song morphs into a pretty little acoustic-guitar and organ track that opens up and sways delightfully for the slightly filtered male vocals.

"Elevator Love Letter" follows up with another perfect slab of slightly-jangly, layered pop, with breathy vocals by Amy Millan that accentuate things nicely. "Heart" mixes plodding electronic rhythms and piano with male/female vocals and it all goes down smoothly as the reticent lyrical theme works like a charm with the lolling music. Like all pop music that treads so close to the overly-sappy line, the release stumbles only when it moves a little too close to adult contemporary. Fortunately, it only does that a couple of times, including on the sixth track "The Vanishing," a track that might get by if didn't already sound so similar to a track that Belle and Sebastian did for the Storytelling soundtrack. Likewise, "Death To Death" starts out so very lite with swirling synths and a quiver of bass before launching into a chorus that brings things a little closer to redemption.

Still, arguing about whether it's too much pop is probably splitting hairs a little too much considering the genre that Stars exist in. The group has toured with the more left-of-center Broken Social Scene (and share a couple peripheral members with the group), but this release is much more poppy than either release from that troupe. Although it's a bit of a guilty pleasure, Heart won't leave you regretting anything in the morning.

Rating: 7.75