Bobby Gallivan (vocals), Dan Fleury (guitar, actor), Dan Radzicki (bass, keys), Evan Sult (drums and formerly of Harvey Danger), and Janie Porche (multi-intrumentalist), otherwise known as the Bound Stems, have been releasing music on a regular basis since their first EP back in 2003. The Family Afloat is their second full- length release, and is helping the Chicago natives gain some critical and national recognition. Two years after Appreciation Night, listeners can hear some real musical growth as the five-sum search for their niche amongst the indie pop-rock acts that have been flooding the scene for some time.
It is a romantic sense of life, love, and family that runs through this new set of songs as a central theme. In the opener, “Taking Tips From the Gallery Gang”, Gallivan introduces his voice with a sound that resembles The Proclaimers in some distant way. By track two he seems to settle in to what sounds like a more comfortable range for his voice. “Happens To Us All Otherwise” is the first of several poppy tunes with hooks that drive into your ears, sticking around for you to whistle later. This follows into the hopeful “Passing Bell” as they sing along, “Cheer up, it’s your lucky day!” This simple message makes it one of the stronger songs in the first half of the record. It also demonstrates the band’s song writing potential, as it draws from the school of Martsch for its slower instrumental segments.
One of many strong points is the flow of the record, as each track appropriately leads into the next, making the songs feel linear in progression. A slight downside, however, is that it’s the rare song on the album that does not feel overly filled with influences from indie music’s past and present. It’s very evident that the band, even after six years together, is still searching for an identity all its own. You hear moments of individuality scattered throughout each song, such as at the end of “Palace Flophouse and Grill”. There are also glimmers of it when a piano is introduced and when Porche gets the chance to step up to the microphone for her moments of clarity, such as on “Clear Water and Concrete”.
The minute-long song “Only Clementine Knows” serves as an introduction for the emotionally heavy story of Clementine on “Winston”. Up until this point, the Bound Stems latest effort, The Family Afloat, had felt like another multi-instrumented, well-layered, catchy indie pop record, but it was the second half of the 10 tracks that really perked my ears up to these Chicago natives. For a band that started their career with more of a math-rock influence, it sounds on these tracks as if they have now cleaned up and found themselves in a more comfortable place. Songs that use group sing-a-longs often end up sounding much more meaningful and passionate, as with “Crossed Off Together”. This style continues in the signature grainy, warbled-at-times, vocals from Gallivan that evoke Bright Eyes. Porche adds a sense of vulnerability to the song, making me wish that “Sugar City Magic” was not the end of one record, but rather the beginning of another.
“Happens To Us All Otherwise”