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Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Apples In Stereo: New Magnetic Wonder


1) Can You Feel It?; 2) Skyway; 3) Mellotron 1; 4) Energy; 5) Same Old Drag; 6) Joanie Don't U Worry; 7) Sunndal Song; 8) Droplet; 9) Play Tough; 10) Sun Is Out; 11) Non-Pythagorean Composition 1; 12) Hello Lola; 13) 7 Stars; 14) Mellotron 2; 15) Sunday Sounds; 16) Open Eyes; 17) Crimson; 18) Pre-Crimson; 19) Vocoder Ba Ba; 20) Radia­tion; 21) Beautiful Machine Parts 1-2; 22) Beautiful Machine Parts 3-4; 23) My Pretend; 24) Non-Pythagorean Com­position 3.

After the embarrassing failure of Velocity Of Sound, the Apples promptly disappeared from the studio for about four years, only serving to further confirm how much of an embarrassing failure that album really was. In the interim, Schneider diverted himself by applying his immense mathe­matical skills to the creation of a brand new «Non-Pythagorean» musical scale based on natural logarithms, resulting in a whoppin' eighty seconds of truly revolutionary keyboard tones demon­strated on the album under review (apparently, this should mean that Pythagoras is not in any im­mediate danger); and Hilarie Sydney, the band's second biggest talent that was never given a pro­per chance to become its first, finally decided that to bear the tyranny of a bald man in glasses is a perverted form of self-humiliation, and announced her departure from the band. Fortunately, not before she got to bang more of those drums on New Magnetic Wonder, as well as contribute two of the best songs (or, frankly speaking, one, because 'Sunndal Song' and 'Sunday Sounds' are pret­ty much the exact same tune).

More importantly, they had enough time to correct the silly mistake they made on Velocity — ac­cidentally mutating into a generic alternative rock band, even if that was never the intention — and, this time, reinvent their sound in a way that is much more deserving of the Apples In Stereo­typical ideology. Sunny pop and psychedelia are back, in a big way, and now they are more tech­nological and futuristic than ever before. More than ten years, after all, have passed since their humble beginnings, and it is only too reasonable, chronologically, that they no longer salivate and slobber over Revolver, but rather over Electric Light Orchestra's A New World Record: the har­monies, the melodic moves, the big wall of sound, the sweet atmosphere of the Mellotrons and slide guitars, all of these things now treasure the Jeff Lynn legacy rather than John Lennon's.

It's a smart and seductive move, and it works. In conjunction with Schneider's songwriting skills that only seem to mature with age, it makes Magnetic Wonder one of the most instantly likeable Apples albums. Of course, nothing is perfect: for egotistic reasons, Schneider still had to fill it up with a set of brief «interludes», ranging from the already mentioned experiments in whuppin' Py­thagoras' ass to little bits of electronically encoded vocalizing and littler bits of dissonant piano playing. The result is a huge massive of 24 tracks, spread across two discs (even though the total running length is only slightly above 50 minutes), masking a group of tall-growing, healthy, but scattered trees under the guise of a dense, overwhelming forest.

Once you take out the scissors, though, and circumcise Schneider's big ego by throwing out all the fancy-wancy «artsiness», nothing is to detract you from just enjoying the music. The answer to 'Can You Feel It?' is by all means positive — the band opens the album with a frantic battle summon to "turn up your stereo", and even though the song still lets you feel the unpleasant echo­es of Velocity with its primitive grungy rhythm track, its melodic wah-wah lines and Schneider's insanely supplicating vocal melody more than compensate for it.

From then on, songs — as opposed to links — rarely let down. 'Energy' promises that "we're gon­na see sunlight" and, with but one verse repeated over and over again, is like a power pop mantra whose message could be annoying because of its repetitiveness if it weren't so goddamn true, not to mention catchy-friendly. 'Play Tough' finally gets it right about combining romantic atmosphe­re with memorable melodic lines — here is a song that is played, sung, and arranged in such a way that it could have fit in perfectly on the Kinks' Something Else (it even seems to borrow a few melodic moves from Ray Davies, including the descending scale of 'Sunday Afternoon'). Fi­nally, the line "you gotta get back to the place that you know you're gonna see your friends again" ('Radiation') gets my vote for «highest correlation of beauty and underratedness» in the band's en­tire catalog, if you know what I mean.

On a funny, but probably coincidental note, it is the band's most explicit Jeff Lynne imitation — 'Beautiful Machine, Parts 3-4' — that leaves me the coldest: injecting a lot of effort into the con­struction of an ELOesque sound wall, over which a distinct, shrill, Lynnesque nasal twang lays the vocals, they forget to add a pinch of feeling, and the song feels as hollow as their early Beat­les tributes, making the «Grande finale» a bit of a letdown after such a good set overall. But, heck, this is simply to remind us one more time, lest we forget, that The Apples In Stereo are not the Beatles, not the Kinks, and not even the new Electric Light Orchestra. Were they all of these things combined, would we have any incentive at all to go back to dusty «irrelevant» oldies? As it is, the pleasure is all mine to say it one more time: «Yes, Robert Schneider is a brilliant guy, in his own way, but if you like The Apples, all the more reason for you to take a true time machine, rather than a first-rate simulation». An honest thumbs up all the same, though, because, after all, real time machines work both ways.

Check "New Magnetic Wonder" (CD) on Amazon
Check "New Magnetic Wonder" (MP3) on Amazon


  1. This is my favorite Apples album by far, and "7 Stars" is a thing of beauty. But I am surprised you have a two-disc version of this album? I wasn't even aware that one existed, as mine is only one disc! And with American gasoline prices so high, who wants to spend more money on unnecessary plastic? =P

  2. For me this was a letdown after a long layoff. I hate Energy, it's way too over earnest with more bloviating universalism, and nothing else stuck with me, except The Same Old Drag. That was damn catchy...good, but still more on the annoying side. Oh and the drummer left the band because she divorced Robert, not sure if you knew they were married. A new addition was one Will Hart from the Olivia Tremor Control, (or is it Will Doss?). Anyway he plays more prominently in the next record which is an improvement. But to me, this record sucks. When it was released there were just so many more indie groups making these sort of albums but with WAY more heart and relevance. I'd direct people more toward the Unicorns or Islands.

  3. I love the Unicorns and Islands (at least their first album), but I do not agree that their music is all that similar to the Apples'. They both make indie pop, but while this record really builds on the wall of sound and the sounds of the '60s/'70s, I feel the Unicorns/Islands really have more of a modern sound... even if they love their analogue synths.

    I would agree, though, that being modern gives the other bands more relevance; and hell, Apples in Stereo don't have that much heart in their recordings... still, it's a nice achievement aesthetically, if not emotionally.

  4. This is the album that introduced me to Apples and Elephant Six in general. One word - refreshing.

    I enjoy post-punk as much as the next guy, but the never ending stream of revival bands (Editors, The Killers, Interpol, Arctic Monkeys etc.) grates on my nerves.

    Apples gives us a nice sugary treat instead. Schneider's experiments with his new scale are kept to a minimum, as you mentioned. It's all about the power pop here.

  5. It's quite absurd this trend of "post-punk revival". The name itself sounds dumb. It should have been "Joy Division wankers" or something.

  6. Although I have no idea whether Hilarie Sidney decided, as you put it, that bearing "the tyranny of a bald man in glasses is a perverted form of self-humiliation," I certainly hope that no tyranny and humiliation were involved -- she and Schneider were not only bandmates but also husband and wife.