Album Reviews

Bound Stems – The Family Afloat

(Flameshovel) UK release date: 3 November 2008

The Family Afloat is a record so modest and delightfully subtle that its beauty almost slips past unnoticed. Initially, the haze of serene guitars and playful structures almost entirely fail to register � but repeated listening buffs The Family Afloat to an admirable, and frankly beautiful sheen.

Sounding like the happily confused bi-product of a chemical reaction involving Pavement, Ambulance LTD, and the most reserved parts of The Walkmen, Bound Stems compose a music that hides a secret enchanting jubilance at its heart, which once found, is hard to resist.

The problem is that this quest is infuriated by stumbling blocks such as Clear Water & Concrete, Passing Bell, Crossed Off Together, and below-par production. The latter particularly prominent on the drum sounds which unfortunately detract significantly from the record.

These problems are compounded by the annoyingly contradictory notion that all the things that make Bound Stems good, also make them a little bit bad. The whimsical vocals sometimes too unengaging, the fantasy worlds that The Family Afloat dives into sometimes too fanciful, the subtlety in songcraft sometimes resulting in songs that sound too thin.

In Bobby Gallivan, however, Bound Stems have a frontman who adds an Arcade Fire type majesty to The Family Afloat, with a passionate, yet understated delivery that imaginatively plays with patterns and melodies, narrating heartfelt stories best exemplified on Happens To Us All Otherwise, and Sugar City Magic. And with further highlights such as Taking Tips From The Gallery Gang, Cloak Of Blue Sky, and Palace Flophouse And Grill, this album has enough about it to attract and beguile.

Possessing the ability to make odd chord changes, strange structures, and time signature changes sound effortless, Bound Stems make losing tangent beautiful. And when such adventures are punctuated with pretty harmonies and original vocal melodies, The Family Afloat reveals itself as a record that is promising, enchanting, and imbued with a wry optimism that at times is tangible.

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Bound Stems – The Family Afloat