02 February 2007

Bound Stems / Appreciation Night / Flameshovel Records [2006]

The ambitious debut LP from indie-rockers the Bound Stems makes no secret of their hometown pride. With Chicago as their muse, the band has crafted a busy and densely layered epic wearing influences on their sleeve. It would be too easy to write the Bound Stems off as second-rate math rock but repeated listens reveal Appreciate Night as a sonic masterpiece, tugging the listener in three directions at once without a second to catch your breath.

A kitschy jingle layered with the scripted dialogue of a flight attendant begins the record without pretense, giving the clear declaration, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’d like to welcome you to Chicago.” With this formality out of the way, a second voice, above an echo of children’s laughter, thanks “everyone for joining us today,” something one might expect in lieu of an impending theatrical production. What may come as a shock to complacent listeners is that Appreciation Night is exactly that: an intricate production with all the trappings of a jumbled mess. There is no doubt the record calls for a proactive experience as the band leaves the listener to sift through the crowded landscape. What becomes abundantly clear with numerous listens is that the Bound Stems have created their own bountiful world casting the listener as a sort of auditory miner in a position rich with rewards. However, much of the responsibility to unearth these rewards is placed on the listener, but make no mistake; around every corner is a clever riff or peculiar musing on life, love or geography.

The elaborate confusion may serve to put off the casual listener, but an able and expecting approach allows for the hearer to be transported into the cerebral battlefield of whirling atmosphere created by both forceful production and impressive musicianship. The angular guitar in the first proper track “Andover” quickly gives way to a buzzing keyboard and plodding drums. The rest of the album carries on accordingly with varied textures and intricacies that make subsequent listens a rewarding opportunity to grasp hidden layers of the work. Standout tracks "Wake Up, Ma and Pa are Gone" (left over from the band's The Logic of Building the Body Plan EP) and "Excellent News, Colonel" showcase the band's penchant for equilibrium, with the harmonies as infectious as their surroundings are chaotic. The most important thing to remain cognizant of when attempting to dig through the perceived mess of Appreciation Night is that just because the hooks are buried doesn't mean they aren't there.

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