Centuries Before Love And War

Stars Of Track And Field

Wind-Up, 2006

REVIEW BY: Melanie Love


It seems like everyone in music has turned towards the classics lately, whether it’s Wolfmother aping Led Zeppelin, most of the White Stripes' catalog or the Raconteurs’ plucked-from-the-70s debut.

Whether it turns out well (Scissor Sisters bringing back glam rock) or laughably (The Darkness, anyone?), the rarer finds, though, are the acts who manage to incorporate their influences into a fresh sound rather than just molding themselves into the latest Bob Dylan or the new Beatles (though, of course, those digestible labels are often the kiss of death for most musicians).

But with an eye turned towards the analog of yesteryear and another focused firmly on our current digital revolution, Portland, Oregon indie rockers Stars of Track and Field’s Centuries Before Love And War is one of the most unique albums of the year (and all without ever having to slip into a catsuit, Justin Hawkins and Jake Shears).

Sounding like Pink Floyd and The Postal Service on some tracks, The Beatles, Coldplay and Built To Spill on others, the three-piece (Jason Bell and Kevin Calaba both on guitars/vocals, with Calaba taking on keyboards also, and drummer Daniel Orvik) mixes lush choruses, stark synths and muted electronica along with Calaba’s evocative vocals to create my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Centuries’ sparking soundscapes.

Opening the album is “Centuries” which starts out with a sampling of vinyl scratching and spacey harmonies but quickly builds to its soaring, anthemic chorus amid crescendoes of guitars before fading into “Movies Of Antarctica,” the album’s lead single. It’s exactly what indie pop should sound like, with its mix of jangling guitars and Calaba’s ethereal vocals on lines like “Trading touch for time / the camera catches all / it’s over now. Faded prints and sample times / novas thrashing in your eyes.” Though “Movies Of Antarctica,” like most of the material on Centuries, is bittersweet as it deals with what Calaba terms “maligned memory and love loss,” that melancholy is fittingly contrasted by the track’s U2-esque blend of sweeping stadium rock.

Next up is “With You,” which turns from the glimmer of the album’s opening tracks towards a more desolate beauty with its stark arrangement and bleak delivery -- until it abruptly shifts into an unexpectedly lush chorus and a pleading, piano-drenched outro. Continuing in a similar vein is “Lullaby For A G.I./Don’t Close Your Eyes” which, though it begins with ambient blips of electro and echoing, dreamlike vocals, seamlessly replaces the digitized drums with acoustic guitars and a swirling, hypnotic repetition of the chorus.

The coupling of “Real Time” and “Arithmatik” isn’t ideal as both stick to the band’s tried-and-true formula of electronics, then guitars, then back to organic elements again, and end up sounding fatally similar, but the gorgeous chorus on “Real Time” is easily one of the most endearing and instantly catchy on the album. 

On the whole, Centuries Before Love And War is an album you can listen to a hundred times and manage to still find something new buried in the same tracks each time. For a band that found themselves without a bassist right before recording this album, Stars Of Track And Field manage to revitalize themselves to become more than just the next Radiohead, U2 or Postal Service: rather, they’re an amalgamation of many of their predecessors and, as a result, end up sounding like far more than the sum of their parts.

Rating: A-

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© 2006 Melanie Love and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Wind-Up, and is used for informational purposes only.