2/5 stars

You may not have realized it, but you’ve probably heard Stars before. The Toronto-based five-piece band, who released their sixth full-length album Tuesday, is a fixture on soundtracks for network television shows and indie films alike. And unfortunately, their latest work, The North, provides just that type of unconscious experience; you may hear it in the background and find it pleasant, but you won’t be scrambling to Shazam it.

For fans, the record will be instantly recognizable. The first track begins with one of Stars’ trademarks: an audio clip of someone speaking. This one, Google tells me, is from a Canadian author’s well-known radio documentary called “The Idea of the North.” Though the reference may be lost on most of the American audience, the words evoke the idea of distance, isolation and a long journey that sets the tone for the rest of the album

The North starts off with two strong tracks, giving an ebullient feel to the album. “Theory of Relativity” is danceable and clever, with enough synths to last the rest of the album. “Backlines” incorporates more of a rock feel with a catchy guitar riff and, at just over two minutes, ends before you want. The celebratory feeling dies down for the album’s title track, which fails to carry the momentum and warmth of the openers. “North” is chilling in lyrics too, with vocalist Torquil Campbell lamenting that “It’s so cold in this country/You can never get warm.”

Stars are at their best when Campbell and female vocalist Amy Millan sing together, as they do on “Do You Want To Die Together,” “The Loose Ends Will Make Knots” and the album’s closer “Walls.” Campbell and Millan’s rapport adds depth to the lyrics; they sing to each other while sounding like neither is actually listening. The two perfect this effect in “Loose Ends,” a song-conversation that conveys the poor communication of a failed relationship.

Despite a few likable tracks, the album as a whole is too similar to Stars’ previous releases to be memorable. The atmospheric synths blend together too easily and Millan’s voice is often especially lost in the instrumentation. By the fourth or fifth track on the album, it becomes difficult to notice when one song ends and the next begins; a result not of perfect thematic fluidity but of repetitive arrangements.

The mood of the album fluctuates drastically, and the work lacks cohesion from beginning to end. The North as a whole could be good for doing homework, or maybe cleaning-the-apartment background music. Otherwise, you’re better off picking just a few tracks to download.

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