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Stars: Of Haunted Spirits And 'Dead Hearts'

Stars' "Dead Hearts" opens with Torquil Campbell quizzing Amy Millan about her encounter with forces from another dimension: "Tell me everything that happened / Tell me everything you saw," he pleads, prompting her to matter-of-factly reply, "They had lights inside their eyes." For a band that's spent the past decade or so examining the minutiae of interpersonal conflict, this particular exchange treads on unfamiliar ground. Campbell and Millan are far more likely to trade verses about doomed romance than they are about tortured ghosts, while the emotionally expressive Millan is typically nowhere near as cryptic as she sounds here.

But in spite of its air of mystery and tentative forays beyond the grave, "Dead Hearts" stays rooted in an idea Stars fans understand well: that our past pain can never be extinguished altogether; that it shades and stains everything we see and do. Campbell and Millan -- the latter in particular -- often portray characters unable to flee their insecurities or reconcile their past actions, so it's hard to imagine them being haunted by anything beyond simple regret and fear. The wrecked spirits Millan encounters may be "kids that I once knew" and "all dead hearts to you," but their effect on her clearly isn't as impersonal or otherworldly as the subject matter suggests.

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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.)
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