BOUND STEMS: The Family Afloat [Flameshovel]

Bound Stems have always seemed like a band worth rooting for. 2006 debut Appreciation Night was a well-realized batch of rickety, sleeves-rolled-up indie rock that was as heavy on historical references (vocalist Bobby Gallivan teaches high-school history) as it was on hooks. But beyond that, the Chicago fivesome understood just how crowded the genre pool has become over the years, and it tangled things up with gnarly time changes and production antics. That ethos is fully intact on follow-up The Family Afloat. Gallivan’s lyrical turns remain chatty and rhythmically taut, and warm jams such as hand-clapping romp “Happens To Us All Otherwise” are still sprinkled throughout. But the Stems have toyed further with their sonic model, abandoning a lot of the Promise Ring chug and post-hardcore blasts that stood out in their past work for more Beefhearted tomfoolery. It’s a step forward for sure, though at times it reinforces the cloying feeling that the need to complicate rather than simplify makes for overwrought music. But you can’t blame a band for being thoughtful or for playing like something is at stake. []

—David Bevan