Stars of Track and Field hail from Portland, OR, where the band’s proximity to Northwest kingpin Ben Gibbard seems to have seeped into their electro-pop music. Centuries Before Love and War, the trio’s debut album, is bound together with electronic bleeps, blips, and all the digital pop flourishes of The Postal Service's Give Up. At the same time, the band is equally capable of large, crashing anthems, with standout tracks like "Movies of Antarctica” channeling the same bombast as Death Cab for Cutie’s “The New Year.”
To their credit, frontman Kevin Calaba, guitarist Kevin Bell, and drummer/programmer Daniel Orvik have musical tastes that venture far beyond the Gibbard catalogue. The band’s name is taken from a Belle & Sebastian song, and some of the radio-geared tracks even evoke a bit of Radiohead and U2. Add some luxuriant production from Tony Lash (who mixed, engineered, produced, and played on all three Heatmiser albums), and you've got an album as lush as The City of Roses itself.
Not having a bass player to beef up their lower end, Stars of Track and Field control their sound by paying careful attention to volume and dynamics. On the softer numbers, Calaba’s soft voice mixes with the pre-programmed percussion to form some sort of digital lullaby. And when the group plugs in, turns up, and reaches for the stars, their swelling crescendos and stacked harmonies sound ripe for airplay and/or inclusion on O.C. soundtracks (RIP). Centuries Before Love and War is a thoroughly solid (and long overdue) debut - one that is sometimes reminiscent of the band's indie-rock predecessors, but more often indicative of Stars' potential to eventually rival those influences. - Andrew Leahey