I know I’ve mentioned it before, but, you know that moment when you witness a work of art so incredible that it discourages you and yet inspires you at the same time? Of course you do, especially if you’re an artist, you probably have it all the time. This week I learned that that same moment is also prone to occur when faced with mediocre art. Despite its good intentions, Stems’ debut release, Polemics, has the quality of a rough demo tape which, admittedly, gives it some charm. These instrumental compositions, consisting of drums, string instruments, and electric guitar, have enormous potential– too much actually.
Like many an after-school jam session, these songs tend to find a comfortable spot and stay there while gradually embellishing the music and ultimately coming to a slow close at some point. Apparently the desired effect is “to create music with the energy of rock music but with elongated and intense structures of Western and Indian classical music.” This becomes more apparent in songs like ‘Reverence’, a light-hearted 7/8 tune with a guitar laying down the looped riff and strings moving harmoniously overtop. This has to be the positive highlight of my sampling of Polemics.
And then there are songs like ‘Connery’ which utilize trite chord progressions–the kind often heard in climactic scenes of epic movies in which troops rally for a final battle–that repeat for five minutes from beginning to end with melodic instruments playing on the surface layer. While listening to this song I pictured myself at a high school coffeehouse surrounded by fellow students in the dim atmosphere of color-shaded lamps and Christmas tree lights, and at two minutes into the performance I politely made my exit from the cafeteria in search of something as-of-yet undiscovered. It took only a measure of listening to the fifth track, ‘Shadows’, for me to name the artist most likely responsible for influencing the piece, and a few more measures to confirm that it was indeed a dangerously close rip-off of a Yann Tiersen tune. The novelty of strings had worn off long before reaching this track.
All this is not to judge the music as something bad, rather, lacking thoughtful care. There are noticeable recording mistakes such as imprecise looping, unintentional dissonances, and poorly micd drums tracks throughout. A majority of the time this may be overlooked or regarded as part of the musical aesthetic, but when the composition tends to be too predictable and/or repetitive these qualities become even more noticeable and detract from the overall sound.
To wrap this up, Polemics is, in a word, juvenile. With time and practice I’m sure that Stems can grow into something amazing and entertaining, but as of now it fails to hold interest.