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.
In the days before Jon Stewart provided the country’s youth with news, he provided some edgy rock and roll. When Sunny Day Real Estate took the stage on The Jon Stewart Show to perform their song “Seven,” the world got its first glimpse of Jeremy Enigk in all of his Billy Corgan-bald-headed glory as he effortlessly pumped out the alt-rock anthem that would spawn innumerable emo copycats. Even then, Enigk possessed a smooth swagger that exuded poise and self-control, but a certain moment in which Enigk’s eyes, which had remained closed with a deadly focus, darted toward the sky, gave the impression of restlessness and striking ambition. Unable to be repressed, the singer followed his longing for more ornate projects, veering away from the unrefined crunch of his previous band in favor of textured rock symphonies.
Too often new music takes the back seat to prior accomplishments, and in this case former Sunny Day Real Estate front man Jeremy Enigk lives in the shadow of his seminal group. Here, he creates a swirling dreamland of sugary harmonies and grand soundscapes that soar and surround you, and which despite their anthemic, arena-ready qualities remain one of independent music’s best-kept secrets. Released on Enigk’s own label, no one batted at an eye at this late-year release, but the optimism conveyed in the singer’s howl is too gripping to be ignored. The orchestral flourishes that pepper the ten tracks create a sweeping flow of hope and build a rich ambiance that carries through the duration of the record.