On the other side of my life, away from thinking about cities and living and roads and all that stuff, I’m a giant music nerd. Over the years I’ve put on live music events, spent vast amounts of my own money pressing up 7″ singles for bands, and in the last year I’ve spent about twenty hours hours talking jibberish into a microphone around songs I love. DIY and independent music was pretty much my life before I arrived where I am now, so it’s always fun for me when these things cross-over.
I’m a big fan of the Montreal band Stars, in particular the sequence of records they released from 2004 through to 2008, a run of three records of shimmering, romantic and expansive indie pop that few bands have come close to equalling in recent years. Stars are the kind of band who could only come from a big city. Their songs are intensely melodramatic, but in a great way, a way that reflects the often overwhelming feelings that come with big city life; every missed connection is a momentous “what if?”, every romantic entanglement that goes awry a drama for the ages. Their music is big and dramatic because where they’re from – a story that takes in Montreal, New York, Toronto, Vancouver, and endless touring of the world’s big cities – is big and dramatic.
So this is the fairly apt cover of their new album;
The building on the front cover there is Habitat 67, a 1960s experiment in the residential form that adorns a sliver of land opposite Montreal’s old port. Brutalism will always be one of those things that will be incredibly devisive, and the naked white/grey concrete does nobody any favours, but it’s one of those buildings that just spins your head to look at. A city within a city, with all the drama of a skyline evolved over the ages, but condensed downwards. There’s no regular form or pattern to how the individual units are laid out, it’s just an incredible jumble of boxes that, to this day, remains a popular place to live.
Whilst the cost (quoted on Wikipedia at CAN$140,000 a unit – I’m unsure if that means per concrete box or per residential unit) meant that it never really caught on as a mass produced form of residential housing Living in Edinburgh these past nine months has taught me the beauty of repetition (and, my word, the tenement neighbourhoods certainly are beautiful), but I can only wonder what the modern world would look like if the core design ideas, of providing a high density but with the genuinely private space suburbanites craved, had been transposed over to some kind of cheaper form.
The North by Stars is out September 4th in the US, via ATO Records.