Stars of Track and Field

Centuries Before Love and War

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A bandmember's departure normally brings change in its wake, but for Stars of Track and Field it heralded not the expected arrival of a new bassist, but a shift in their very sound and modus operandi. The remaining trio members threw themselves headlong into the digital age, making new use of electronics and samples. The results are quite stunning, as Centuries Before Love and War, a follow-up to their self-produced debut EP, You Came Here for Sunset Last Year, proves. What hasn't changed is the Stars' glimmering, gloomy, shimmering, shambling style, but the electronics allow them to vastly expand their musical palette, add a plethora of shadings and textures to their songs, and evoke rock's rich past. That's evident on the opening track, with its scratchy vinyl kick-drum sample played off against digitized handclaps, sending the sound further and further back into the past, even as the song crescendos from stadium rock guitar leads to swirling shoegazing heights. "Movies of Antarctica" is just as breathtaking, leaping from the jangly guitars beloved of U2 to the drenched atmospheres adored by Radiohead. "With You," in contrast, is doused in post-punk gloom and simple guitar riffs that contrarily evoke Joy Division's basslines, the arrangement's sparseness counterpointed by an extravagantly lush chorus. At the other end of the spectrum comes "Arithmatik," the denseness of its sound and atmospheres swelling into a massive chorus that drips of classic rock. And it's these many contrasts -- between analog and digital, styles past and present, guitar and keyboards -- and the internal dynamics of the songs themselves that drive much of the set. "Lullabye for a G.I./Don't Close Your Eyes," for example, elegantly shifts from ambient electro into acoustic guitar passages, while stirring guitar twines around the bubbling, twittering keyboards on "Fantastic." The lyrics are just as shaded, textured, and thought-provoking as the music that accompanies it. Little within Centuries is instantly catchy, but its pop antecedents are always clear, and it's the kind of album that encourages listeners to delve back time and time again to further appreciate the beauty and intricacy of its sound.

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