Review: Stems – Polemics

As reflected in the decision to house Polemics in tracing paper (on which wiry pink tree roots writhe across sketches of the band members in action), Stems choose to exist in plain view; these pieces are simple and spaciously produced, with the voice of each instrument clearly pronounced and unhidden by any shadow of effects. Only occasionally does a distant vocal harmony falling into vague half-heard translucency, tucked behind the guitars and violins that climb and tumble in unison at the fore. A sense of ascension is frequently reprised – an upward surge depicted in wide smiles of major-key strums and strings that bound round the edges with the jubilance of new-born fawns, their movements asserted by thumps of bass and tom drum that acts as a delicate, emboldening drive. Melodies are cast in confident, pop clarity – by no means two-dimensional, but vibrantly unambiguous – and swoop between pastoral folk and the more glimmering and optimistic sects of modern classical.

At times, Polemics spirals downward into sadness, or an aggression that manifests as the Stems ensemble gritting their instrumental teeth on dissonance and executory vigour, and the transition into these states is instant; an unusual but refreshing behavioural trait in contrast with the warmth and sloped edges of Stems’ sonic fabrics. They don’t acknowledge half measures, and with every upturn of mood, their creative energy is poured between emotional states in its entirety, striding from ecstasy into misery as if the band are entering their own mirror image.