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First Listen: Stars, 'The Five Ghosts'

Songs by the Montreal indie-pop band Stars generally fall into one of two categories: gloomy, string-swept boy-girl ballads in which singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell break down the bitter specifics of relationships gone wrong; and fizzy, buzzy, ingratiatingly catchy dance music in which Millan and Campbell break down the bitter specifics of relationships gone wrong. Whichever form it takes, it's wise, beautiful music. On Stars' last two (remarkable) albums, 2005's Set Yourself on Fire and 2007's In Our Bedroom After the War, the band dispenses heavy doses of fearless insight about the personal, the political, and the many ways the two intersect.

Stars' fifth studio album, The Five Ghosts, spends a good deal of time on the idea of being haunted -- most literally in "Dead Hearts" and most explicitly in "I Died So I Could Haunt You." Though weighted heavily toward bombastic dance-pop music (once the album-opening "Dead Hearts" is done setting a suitably ominous tone), The Five Ghosts sneaks in a lot of turmoil amid the stirring synth lines: In "Fixed," Millan describes the point where "touch turns into fisticuffs," while she and Campbell trade bile-soaked barbs in the self-explanatorily titled "I Don't Want Your Body." But The Five Ghosts works on multiple levels -- as ebullient pop music and as frank, dark-hearted analysis of the way the past never stops creeping into life in the present day.

The Five Ghosts will stream here in its entirety until its release on June 22. Please leave your thoughts on the album in the comments section below.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)