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Stars Of Track And Field
Centuries Before Love And War
Wind-Up Records

Drawing from the atmosphere and restraint of Pink Floyd, the electronic wizardry of Radiohead, the anthemic arena rock of U2, and the quiet-loud dynamics that have been a hallmark of mainstream rock since The Pixies and Nirvana, Portland-based Stars Of Track And Field is an intriguing hybrid of straight-ahead rock and digital experimentation. With its often stellar - and often frustrating - debut, Centuries Before Love And War, the band offers a number of truly captivating songs, and a handful of tracks that play like less-impressive rewrites of those standouts. Even the album's most transcendent moments show a tendency towards formulaic songwriting and overly professional arrangements, but the record remains an ambitious, inventive introduction to a band capable of much more.

Centuries is an intricately recorded affair that showcases a band capable of both electronic experimentation and dynamic rock and roll. In the band's online biography, guitarist and vocalist Jason Bell said that he and his bandmates "(think) in bleeps and blurps these days as much as… in rhythms and melodies." Interestingly, their original intention wasn't to make records like these: when their bass player left the band, they chose to go the digital route rather than find a replacement. So, amidst all their digital experiments, Stars Of Track And Field remains a rock band - the old-fashioned guitar solos and live drums are added to the mix with remarkable fluidity.

Among a handful of standout tracks, there is one truly great song on Centuries Of Love And War, the moving "Lullabye for a G.I. / Don't Close Your Eyes." Despite its concise running time, the song feels like an epic, telling the story its title implies with spare and affecting poetry. The song also underlines one of the band's greatest strengths - hypnotic, minimalist refrains that manage to evoke emotions with the simplest of lyrics. Opening track "Centuries" is also fascinating, a mini-opus complete with shifts in dynamics and a collage of impressive melodies. The minimalist "Movies Of Antarctica" shows the band at its most reserved and experimental, and serves as a telling example of the band's lyrical approach. The song offers poetic sketches with the simplicity of a haiku poem: "Movies of Antarctica / I'm colder now, I'm standing still / About the day your parade would stay / Watch, watch them smile."

The band provides much-needed levity with "Fantastic," a song that features the kind of upbeat pop-rock that could have relieved some of the weight of the record's ambitions. It also brings the album's shortcomings sharply into focus - the dense musical arrangements are often difficult to take, primarily because Bell and lead vocalist Kevin Calaba seem to aim for the restraint of bands like Pink Floyd, but often come off as humorless and calculated. All of the band's songs follow roughly the same structure, and at times seem almost interchangeable. Their reliance on an admittedly impressive formula isn't always a problem, but songs like the forgettable "U.S. Mile 5" make it all-too-clear that the band may need to expand its sonic palette the next time around.

Stars Of Track And Field have all the tools for indie - and perhaps even mainstream - success, but for now they remain a bit of an enigma. Centuries Before Love And War is an often fascinating, always distinctive piece of work, but the band comes dangerously close to treading water over the course of just ten succinct songs - despite its ambitions, the record remains curiously one-dimensional. If the band's outlook is any indication, though, the future is bright. "We're still a really young band in terms of playing together, so we'd like to think that our best days are ahead of us," Bell said in the band's online bio. "We're still trying to figure out what the hell we're doing." Let's hope that, next time around, the band fulfills the potential sketched out on this promising debut.

-Dan Warren

Track Listing:
1. Centuries
2. Moving Of Antarctica
3. With You
4. Lullabye for a G.I. / Don't Close Your Eyes
5. Real Time
6. Arithmatik
7. U.S. Mile 5
8. Say Hello
9. Exit The Recital
10. Fantastic

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