So, apparently Sufjan Stevens isn’t the only guy who can record an album that encapsulates the culture and history of Illinois, or more specifically, Chicago. Bound Stems do a fine job of their own on their debut full-length, Appreciation Night, an album that revolves around the band’s hometown. With Stevens, though there are some very personal moments from his Illinois opus, there are also lots of historical documents and quirky takes on various cities. Appreciation Night is merely the product of soaking up the vibe of the city, which was done through use of found sound recordings of O’Hare Airport, elevated trains, cab drivers and other various local characteristics.
In a manner of speaking, Appreciation Night is the band’s own attempt to put the listener in their own environment, but with a rock soup this dense, it’s hard to get into the nuts and bolts of what actually makes such a dynamic pop record. The Modest Mouse-like “Andover” changes tempo at least three times through the course of the song, while Bobby Gallivan recounts his daily journey home: “Walk home through the early streets/arrive to my home/it’s not far off now/schoolkids with their families/and like hell their mothers try to be on time.” “Western Biographic” is a little more laid back and playful in its melody, yet with the profound reminder, “You can learn without the system.” A little subversive coming from a school teacher, no? There are also cleverly tender moments, like the two-way pen pal exchange of “Excellent News, Colonel,” in which a girl declares “I’ve fallen for someone in New York,” which is returned with “I’d like to talk and convince you to come to Chicago” from the boy on the other end. And sometimes, they’re content just to hammer out a good groove, as on “This is Grand.”
Bound Stems do remind us that they’re a bunch of smarty-pantses, such as on “Walter Waters Addresses the Bonus Army,” which is based on a post World War I protest in 1932 in Washington, D.C., thus displaying that not everything here is about Chicago. “Rented a Tent (a Tent, a Tent)” actually borrows from Kurt Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan. The intro to “Book of Baby Names” contains a reading from Thax Douglas, a local fixture and poet that reminds us once again of the contemporary Chicago that Bound Stems is luring us into. And the post-rock waltz behind his readings isn’t half bad, either.
The array of sounds on Appreciation Night is dizzying, not unlike the whirlwind approach of Broken Social Scene, and like that Canadian collective, Bound Stems most certainly has a problem sitting still for too long. Because of this notable fact, Appreciation Night is a startlingly diverse and adventurous set of music, in addition to being an energetic and touching homage to their home.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.