APPLES IN STEREO – New Magnetic Wonder (Simian)

Apples In Stereo have been a favourite band of mine for many years, helping to kick start the Elephant 6 movement in the early 90’s, and producing a clutch of fine indie/pop albums. I fell out with them slightly in 2000 when they issued the decidedly odd ‘Her Wallpaper Reverie’, as I could not get past the fact that Robert Schneider decided to sing the songs in an irritating falsetto, but they made up for it with the excellent ‘The Discovery Of A World Within The Moone’ the same year, and so after far too long we have another album. I have to wonder about the long lay-off, but it might be due to their long association with SpinArt coming to an end and the signing of a deal with Elijah Wood’s new label Simian. ‘Can You Feel It’ confirms that the band still have that spark of individuality which set them apart when they started out. A glorious pop song with soaring chorus and a great summery feel to it. There are numerous short linking pieces between the tracks, such as ‘Mellotron 1’, ‘Droplet’, and ‘Non-Pythagorean Composition 3’ (based on a newly invented musical scale, devised by Schneider), but it is the songs which stand out on here, such as ‘Energy’, with its exuberant singalong chorus and catchy melody, enhanced even more by some complementary orchestration. ‘Same Old Drag’ was a minor indie hit in the US, and you can see why when you hear this commercial pop ditty with its instantly memorable tune. ‘Atom Bomb’ is a treat for the vinyl lovers amongst us (who also get a giant poster), as it is unavailable on the CD, and a fine little tune it is too. ‘Sunndal Song’ features second vocalist Hilarie Sidney (now left to concentrate on her other band The High Water Marks), but Schneider comes back for the sublime Kinksian ‘Play Tough’ and ‘Sun Is Out’, recorded partly on a hand-held cassette recorder and partly live in the studio by a single mike. ‘7 Stars’ is another effortlessly commercial indie-pop tune, while ‘Open Eyes’ sees the band go heavy rock on us for a lengthy workout. The centre-piece of the whole album, though, is ‘Beautiful Machine’, a four part suite split into two tracks, with ‘Beautiful Machine Parts 1-2’ harking back to their early SpinArt sound of almost pop-punk energy, before slowing things down for a Beatlesy end section, linking seamlessly into ‘Beautiful Machine Parts 3-4’, which consists of an acoustic intro which quickly descends into some of the most deranged guitar riffing that I have ever heard from the band, all climaxing in a lush orchestral coda complete with tubular bells. Even then it is not all over as we wind down with ‘My Pretend’, a jaunty little solo piano and vocal outing from Schneider. 53 minutes, 25 tracks, and a triumphant return for a band that I am ashamed to admit that I had written off as well past their sell-by date.