The distance between "influence" and "rip-off victim" has gotten narrower lately, as new rock acts inspired by Radiohead and The Strokes dig into the influences behind their influences, and find largely untapped veins of old sound. Some do better with direct pilferage than with coy reference–for instance, Montreal's The Stills, whose debut album Logic Will Break Your Heart serves up likable songs in the mode of mid-'80s Britpop, alongside atmospheric ballads in the mode of just about every post-Coldplay European rock band. Logic may be weighted too much toward the latter, but just when the tuneless echo threatens to become hopelessly vague, along comes a track like "Ready For It," with its moving mix of jangle and surge, or "Changes Are No Good," with its thick guitar line (equal parts Cure and Echo & The Bunnymen) and a melody that matches the lyrics' pining to a specific past. The minor-key chug of Logic's "Love & Death" is nothing new, but the homage to the New Order generation is imbued with its source's alluring romantic pessimism, and the song has enough heart to thrive. The Stills' Montreal neighbor Stars consists of four young show-business pros who moonlight from day jobs as actors, composers, and studio/orchestra sidemen to work through a mutual affection for the dazzlingly clean synthetics of clever '80s technopop purveyors like OMD and Berlin. Stars isn't alone in that fandom, and more than a few songs on the band's sophomore album Heart (like the lush "Elevator Love Letter," and the happily swinging title track) possess some of the kitschy cool of recent records by Ivy, Venus Hum, and Sixpence None The Richer, though they stick lower to the ground. But Stars isn't bound by its roots, and when the group reaches a bit, as on the evocative song-story "The Woods" (enhanced by snatches of dialogue from the cult documentary Grey Gardens), it creates moody effects akin to those of its spiritual predecessors, while not strictly imitative. The spry, bass-punched "Romantic Comedy" is scarcely retro at all, but instead carries a timeless pop hook into what feels more and more like the future.
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