It might be safe to say that Bound Stems’ relationship to Chicago is stronger than hotdogs without ketchup, the entire genre of post-rock, and maybe even the Fiery Furnaces’ grandma album. If there’s one thing the members of Bound Stems want you to remember, it’s that they are from Chicago — musically, philosophically, spiritually, whatever. They are there. And they are taking you with them.
Thirteen seconds into Appreciation Night, the band’s debut full-length (on Chicago-based Flameshovel Records), we cannot escape this imminent journey: We are sitting on a plane landing into the city of big shoulders — immediately being whisked away on a tuneful adventure of meandering post-rock bass lines, catchy synthesizer melodies, elevated track turnstiles, and plainly spoken Midwestern truths. On songs such as “Excellent News, Colonel,” we experience much of the above, as elegantly sampled sounds from Chicago’s O’Hare airport are layered alongside a spoken-word pen-pal exchange between lovers. As the rushed female apology begins (“I’ve fallen for someone in New York/ It’s something that I hadn’t expected) the song suddenly lurches into a halting, down-tempo, syncopated response from her male counterpart: “You’re a natural fit/ I handle you for a treat I’d like to talk and convince/ You to come to Chicago.” Moments like these make Bound Stems so refreshing. The members have scored their songs with unexpected, complex time signatures — precisely echoing the sentiments of what is being sung — and somehow managing to bring everything right back to Chicago.
Despite the deliberate geographical foregrounding and the beautifully arranged references to the Windy City, however, the Bound Stems sound, well, sort of Canadian. It’s pretty hard to get past just how similar their themes (the neighborhood, youthful ambition, old memories, family life), sound (emotionally saturated, sonically layered, fuzzy, and meandering), and songwriting style (basically involving everyone and their mother in the process) has developed in comparison to bands such as the Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene. Floating along with the same emotional revelry and layered dreaminess that made our brothers to the North so popular, the Bound Stems capture much of the same earnest energy capable of stirring us into a sentimental trance.
The band members might fantasize about the day they leave for “something bigger” on tracks such as “Wake Up, Ma and Pa Are Gone,” but it hardly seems like a fantasy. With growing comparisons to other successful acts, such as those mentioned above, the hype on their side, and the addition of former Harvey Danger drummer Evan Sult, the Bound Stems could easily become that “something bigger” — perhaps even one of the best new bands of the year.