The ambitious debut from the Bound Stems is beaming with hometown pride. With Chicago as their muse, the band has crafted a densely layered epic wearing its influences on its sleeve. It would be easy to write off the Bound Stems as second-rate math rock but repeated listens reveal Appreciation Night as a sonic masterpiece, tugging your ears in three directions at once without a second to catch your breath.
A kitschy jingle layered with the scripted dialogue of a flight attendant (“Ladies and gentlemen, we’d like to welcome you to Chicago…”) introduces the album, and 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 from an impending theatrical production. What may come as a shock is that Appreciation Night is exactly that: an intricate production with all the trappings of a jumbled mess.
What becomes 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 hidden rewards. 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 open approach allows you 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” (mp3) 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.
Wake Up, Ma and Pa Are Gone video