[27 March 2006]
I’m not quite sure how it was possible, but Bound Stems have made me mad at indie rock. I’m not sure who to blame exactly. Maybe I should blame Pavement whose deceptively shambling arrangements made mediocre guitar players everywhere think they were songwriters. Or maybe I should direct my vitriol at Sonic Youth, whose carefully crafted waves of noise inspired any idiot with a distortion pedal to open-tune their guitars and let loose waves of crap. Oh hell, while I’m at it, why not blame the DIY movement, who in its most cuddly state of mind is supportive of anything outside the mainstream, regardless of real actual talent. Ah fuck it—it’s not Pavement or Sonic Youth’s fault, and hell, but goddamn if Bound Stems’ debut EP The Logic of Building the Body Plan didn’t nearly make me give up entirely on indie rock.
First, a bit of back story: Bound Stems formed in 2002 and three years later, with six months of dedicated recording work between a studio and their practice space, the band recorded their first full-length (dropping in the summer) Appreciation Night. In celebration and anticipation of this (supposedly) momentous event, The Logic of Building the Body Plan was released to sate the appetites of the devoted and presumably build the buzz for newcomers. With two songs from the new album, three brand new tunes, and two songs “composed” by the band and co-producer Tim Sandusky (which in this case means shaping songs out of cutting room floor crap), The Logic of Building the Body Plan is likely to scare anyone away who demands of bands that they at least, at a bare minimum, have the capacity to play their instruments and write somewhat cohesive songs.
While the band’s press sheet speaks highly of their “complicated rhythm structures”, the truth of the matter is Bound Stem’s songs are a complete fucking mess. Take “Crimes and Follies”, that runs unforgivably over five minutes. At its outset, the song seems like a solid little number. Fuzzed out guitar lines and a catchy yet subtly sour vocal delivery sets everything up for a unique and dark path. Unfortunately, the song launches into a completely clichéd pop band stomp, switches back to it’s more atmospheric opening, back to the stomp again and then into a ridiculous guitar solo. The latter two minutes are dedicated to some kind of hybrid of math rock riffing and art rock rabble. These aren’t “complicated rhythm structures”, folks, this is a band that has no fucking clue what they’re doing.
“Totipotent” suffers exactly the same fate by burying one or two really intriguing sections of the song among mindblowingly banal and simplistic arrangements that are conversely, haphazard in application. But it isn’t until you hear the amateurish guitar line of “Up All Night (Book of Baby Lemon Night Swamp Refused)” that you realize just how scarcely competent the band really is. It becomes apparent just how much co-producer Tim Sandusky hides the band’s inability to play. The production of these songs never make all the instruments heard together at once, and usually either throws the vocals or drums up front in the mix while compressing everything else together behind it. The problem with The Logic of Building the Body Planis that these songs come together more by chance than by design. It presents directionless, schizophrenic and hardly passable playing as a feat of compositional bravura. Bound Stems use the studio to legitimize songs that outside of that environment cannot stand up to scrutiny.
Indie rock has a long history of bands who have skirted established norms of technique and genre to present new and bold ideas. What makes The Logic of Building the Body Plan so infuriating is that Bound Stems desperately want to be part of that legacy, but without doing their homework. As the old saying goes, you have to learn to play first, in order not to play. For Bound Stems, not being able to play or even write is their only achievement.