Thursday, March 08, 2007

New Release: Apples In Stereo, New Magnetic Wonder

The Apples are back! (Sorry, that sounds like the sticker that some record exec would slap onto the cd wrapper.) But, yeah, it's true. After a brief detour into lesser work, uber-popsters Apples in Stereo return with New Magnetic Wonder, which picks up where they should have left off a few albums back. After charting a path of steady growth, where frontman Rob Schneider mined his idolatry of Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney (by way of XTC), both in terms of pop melodicism and studio sheen (albeit with a healthy dose of lo-fi indie aesthetics to keep the polish in check), he veered a bit off-course with 2002's Velocity of Sound, which sounded more like the Archies covering the Ramones, or vice versa. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing (and on tunes like "Please" and "She's Telling Lies," it was quite effective), but the shimmery, layered pop magic of the band at its best got lost in the buzz. [Schneider followed this to its logical conclusion with 2004's Ulysses side project, a lo-fi album recorded in mono -- not a bad piece of raging power-pop, but lacking the nuance that was his stock in trade.]

Fortunately, Magnetic is a return to form. Dense, lush indie pop, with the expected shades of Sgt. Pepper all over the place. In some ways, this is the closest Schneider has come to approximating the creative greatness of his friends in Olivia Tremor Control (whose Dusk At Cubist Castle he helped produce, and some of whom show up here). Yet studio flourishes aside, this remains a collection of solid stand-alone pop tunes, a half dozen of which rank high up in the Apples canon. (Hard to pick a favorite, though "7 Stars" in particular made an impression on me.)

The bad news is that Schneider and drummer Hilary Sidney have divorced, and rather than mining that for material like, say, Fleetwood Mac (or Abba???), it looks like she's out of the band. Fortunately, she still has her obligatory two contributions here; as on past albums, her girlie-sweet vocals and melodies help break up the more ambitious reach of Schneider's complex pop.

The only real negative to the album is Schneider's indulgence in interspersing tracks with experimental instrumental interludes (something that also weakened the otherwise solid Her Wallpaper Reverie EP from a few years back, and an annoyance that also plagued OTC's final album). Sure, it's not that hard to reach for the skip button, but the extra tracks are superfluous and interrupt the flow of what is otherwise one of the Apples' best outings to date.


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