The Other Stars Relish in Young Love & Loss on ‘We Were Kids’
It’s rare that a band debuts with an album as fully realized as The Other Stars’ We Were Kids. I’ve been listening to the album semi-regularly since its late-April release, and if nothing else, my time with this record has only proven these seven songs to be a tremendous accomplishment. The Other Stars are from Worcester, MA and have found a home in the wordy intersection of pop punk and emo celebrated by labels such as Broken World Media and Take This To Heart Records. Comparisons to Modern Baseball and The Front Bottoms are commonplace, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll come across stretches wherein it’s hard to ignore the influence of mid-2000’s mainstream flag-bearers like Simple Plan and Relient K.
Ostensibly, the album could be considered a collection of upbeat anthems (epitomized by the lead singles “You Looked Better at the Party” and “Home is What You Make It’) and slower, more emotive acoustic numbers. If you listen closely to the lyrics, it quickly becomes clear that this is one of the best narrative albums of the year. Themes of young love and the sting of loss compose the lyrical motifs of We Were Kids, building up to the emotional climax of “Very Okay.” This moment provides a raw and welcomed catharsis for listeners who’ve endured the same.
“You Looked Better At The Party” kicks off the album with a straight-up jam that has rocketed to the top of my most-played list in the months following its release. There’s something about singer/guitarist Connor Bird’s vocals that fits so naturally into the anthemic mold of the best pop punk tracks. The first verse sets up the story of the album as it describes the narrator/Connor meeting a girl at a party and quickly falling head over heels (“I was starting to get all those funny feelings in my chest and all those feelings in my chest won’t go away,” a pitch perfect description), but, as he continues, name-checking the rest of the band in the process (Derek Johnson, Matt O’Loughlin, and Colton Mead) it becomes clear that things will not end well, cueing the listener that this is an album about love lost. As Bird describes in the sing-a-long ready chorus, “it might not be a broken heart, but it’s a start.” A clear guitar line highlighted by percussive beats insure that the track will stick in your head for days to come.
The Other Stars quickly prove that they’re capable of writing more than just youthful anthems. “Green My Eyes” opens with an acoustic guitar punctuated with clapping before unfolding into a full band track. Here, Bird moves from images of startling relatability (“your tiny little bed, your dogs would take up most of it”) to moments of pure emotion, as highlighted by the emotionally charged shouting of “come back from New York City, please.” The loss felt is immediate, and so it comes as a relief that “Home is What You Make It” is the kind of hook-laden and emotionally charged jam that could eventually become the staple of The Other Stars signature sound. The killer opening riff brings to mind my favorite pop-punk songs, and contains the easily chanted chorus of “this house is not a home/no this house is not a home/it’s all just skin and bones without you.”
Central to “House” is the statement that the album’s narrator doesn’t “want to be your radio tuning in to any station you might like that fits your selfish needs on winter nights.” This sentiment is reflected in the opening of the mid-tempo “Cape Cod,” where Bird “wait[s] for the radio to sends its messages in time.” Similarly, the hatred Bird feels for the snowy roads of “Home” transforms into a longing for snow on this track.
The melancholy rhythm of the guitar in the outro of “Cape” is mirrored in “Very Okay,” the emotional and thematic centerpiece of the album, a song packed with mirrored images and themes. For example, there’s a poignant moment that sees a shift from “parking lots and old streets” to “parking lots filled with empty broken cars” and, more importantly, the decay of the dream of a house in Carolina. There are callbacks to entirety of the tracklisting all throughout the lyrics, from references to green eyes and “lying green inside your bed” to a memory of the previous song’s Cape Cod vacation. The opening and closing lyrics of “Green” (“I can’t say I don’t think from time to time”) become the refrain of “Okay” (“I’ve got a lot to think about /a lot to think of now”) and the refrain of “Home” becomes the closing of “Okay,” describing the house in Carolina, both literally and metaphorically, that will never be a home for Bird’s narrator and his love.
The Other Stars could have opted to end the album there, but that isn’t the case. Instead, the two songs that close out We Were Kids provide a welcome coda. “Caffeine” boasts an infectious and optimistic chorus of ooo’s that provide a necessary levity after the heady heartbreak of “Okay.” This is the kind of track that you could set as your alarm and would ensure that you awaken with a smile on your face. We Were Kids is the kind of album that hides its sadness in the wit and infectiousness of its lyrics, and so it closes on a shakily performed acoustic track that harkens back to a time when the narrator and his love were still together. Bird chose to lace it with melancholy and ends with a pointed question, not to the listeners, but to the object of the song – “do you remember what we said in September on my front step?” As listeners, we can guess, but it’s not for us to know.
Calling the album We Were Kids is the final insertion of Bird’s signature wit, the title serving as a realization of the naiveté that surrounded the album’s story without totally dismissing it. Lyrically, it’s clear that the album is hyper-personal to Bird, but the relatability of the lyrics make it the kind of album you play out of your phone speakers for friends, the soundtrack to walks across parking lots back to your apartment, a mutual commiseration over broken hearts and longing for (a literal and metaphorical) home. These songs are the sounds of the experience surrounding your early twenties. The album may only run 23 minutes, but it manages to pack a punch into its short runtime. When Bird sings “so I guess it always has to end, and when it does we’ll start again” at the close of “Providence,” it’s both a moment of realization and a suggestion to hit repeat and experience it all over.
We Were Kids is out now on Take This To Heart Records. Pick up your copy here.