The band is named after a Belle and Sebastian tune. They’re from Portland, Ore. The cover of their debut album has flowers and a dove on it. Perhaps it’s expected that there are even more flowers and birds when you open up the case.
Unfortunately for Stars of Track and Field, Centuries Before Love and War confirms the suspicions one might have about the group’s role in the indie-music scene: a repackaging of recognizably indie motifs.
Oddly, Stars of Track and Field almost acknowledges its own banality. “We called the CD Centuries Before Love and War due to the fact that all the lyrics deal with maligned memory and love loss,” bandmember Kevin Calaba said in the group’s press release.
One of the group’s (self-proclaimed) unconventional characteristics is its lack of bass. When bass player Moxley Stratton left a few years ago, the band replaced him with a faceless, digital fourth member, making this, their first full-length album, also their first attempt at the combination of analog and digital. The results are subpar.
The album’s first track, “Centuries,” begins with a quiet blend of digital drum and keyboard samples. It crescendos with electric guitar and simplistic vocals rhyming “face” and “space,” and then – get this – fades with a blend of quiet digital drum and keyboard samples, perfectly adhering to the pre-packaged definition of indie rock
Many of their songs also contain lyrics with strangely graphic undertones. Take, for example, the chorus in “Movies of Antarctica”: “Faded prints and sample times / Novas thrashing in your eyes” and in “Fantastic,” the lyrics “You’ll light on fire / I’ll be outside / Last one to notice / Run for your life / I watched you suffer from the first floor.” Though these lines are probably metaphorical, this scopophiliac behavior is one of the creepier, more novel aspects of the album.
A lack of musical ability is not what makes the album disappointing. Band members Jason Bell, Kevin Calaba and Daniel Orvik all know how to play their instruments and manipulate sounds, and both Calaba’s vocals and Bell’s harmonies are pleasing to the ear.
What doesn’t work is the bleak absence of remotely creative, which makes the album downright pathetic. Stars of Track and Field is so bent on fitting the indie mold that their music teeters dangerously on the fence between emulation and imitation – and the comparisons, or sources of inspiration, are extensive. The guitar on “Movies in Antarctica” sounds like Coldplay, the digital drum beat on “With You” like The Postal Service and the intro to “Fantastic” like Stereolab.
If this album were released 10 years ago, Stars of Track and Field might deserve some praise for its efforts. But it wasn’t. And it doesn’t.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
The Stars of Track and Field
Centuries Before Love and War