Carlos Foster may have the most gorgeous lonely voice in the history of pop music. One moment it cracks with agonizing desolation and the ache of unrivaled plaintiveness, and the next it is soaring into that high lonesome sound via a falsetto that is so utterly heartbreaking that it half sounds like crying. But what an intense emotional wallop it packs. And it directs the eponymous debut album from San Francisco's For Stars into wrenching emotional instability, with a haunting sound to match. The band mines the same sort of alien introspection as Neil Young or Radiohead (Foster sometimes comes across as a tic-less Thom Yorke) while betraying the same bittersweet naiveté as both Brian Wilson and Big Star. And David Gates made a living writing big, sensitive songs that sounded as soft and pretty as half the songs on For Stars. But none of those touchstones fully capture the naked beauty of For Stars and the slow-motion grandeur they unroll out of all the rainy-day moments of life. There is a captivating, drunken quality to the mood and music of the album, and end-of-the-party melancholy that continues to well up over the course of the eleven songs threatening to break open some unsettling, deeply buried wound. The band bled out stark, barely-there sound paintings from their instruments that come off as almost bashful, but really they are just waiting for the appropriate moments to punctuate and envelop the sentiments, and underscore the prevailing poignancy of Foster's vocal melodies. Halfway through "Movies" the group kicks into a deep rumble as Foster sings "Don't leave your heart at the movies," and instead of seeming like unbearable pathos, as it threatened to do earlier in the song, it sounds like a hard-earned lesson revealed with striking candor. There are moments on the album where the words do tread waters dangerously close to self-pity ("We Be Friends," for instance) and moments that the music drags when it wants to draw you in, but even those are infused with the loveliest kind of fragility. For Stars artfully turns misery inside out, and it comes out sublime.
AllMusic Review by Stanton Swihart