On the band’s new album, I Never Even Asked for Light (Bar/None), in his best bored Stephen Malkmus drawl, Lullaby for the Working Class guitarist Ted Stevens sings, “Critics will always make categories to keep their words moving in circles.” He might be responding to all the No Depression tags stuck to the band after its striking debut, Blanket Warm, which apart from the bevy of acoustic instruments on it had nil to do with country music. This Nebraska combo is much more of an indie-rock band, playing an eclectic array of instruments–banjo, dulcimer, mandolin, horns, strings, and even glockenspiel fit into the equation–and spouting the same sort of oblique lyrics that have made Pavement such a conundrum for listeners who like their narratives linear. Stevens does plenty of emoting for an indie-rock vocalist, although he can’t sing very well, but his words and the strange journeys he takes with them resonate more than his delivery. On the new record, he struggles with identity and place. There’s an attachment to rural isolation in the frequent references to wide open fields and vast blue skies and the nature sounds that permeate the album; the album’s closer, “The Man vs. the Tide,” features the waves of the Pacific crashing in the background. But Stevens also yearns for the city in several tunes. His lyrics, more than Malkmus’s, border on pretension, particularly in hollow references to everything from Charles Mingus to geometry (“These euclidean lines are our ball and chain”), but for now the band’s tendency to bite off more than it can chew is forgivable: its powers of evocation outweigh its lack of focus. Saturday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Chris Bickell.