The Apples in Stereo – New Magnetic Wonder

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

It’s weird how much better the Apples are late in their career than they were early on; how often are a band’s fifth and sixth albums the best of their output? And especially when those two albums are so different? This album came five years after Velocity of Sound and while the same basic elements are there, clearly Robert Schneider has been listening to a lot of ELO in the interim, even as he reverts to the pre-Velocity practice of peppering pointless interludes among the actual songs. So Velocity sped by in under thirty minutes with a fairly stripped down attack, but New Magnetic Wonder smears keyboards and vocodors across almost an hour’s worth of album tracks. Both are great and they represent a glorious rebirth for the Apples. Sadly, this was Hilarie Sidney’s final album with the band.

What I Think of This Album

This is a pretty amazing album. Yes, the interludes are annoying garbage, and it is heavily front-loaded, but the songs are uniformly strong and the sound is incredible.

The Apples are no longer a lo-fi affair, and they have also moved past (mostly) their ‘60s fixation. Instead, they are now taking their cues from Jeff Lynne, which is no surprise if you listened to Schneider’s Marbles side project. It’s not a bad fit and it’s a testament to Schneider’s songwriting and arranging skills that his songs don’t get drowned in all the glossy instrumentation.

Highlights include the surprisingly raw guitar heroics in the call to arms of “Can You Feel It?,” the Sidney-penned “Sundaal Song,” in which she makes promises in a singsong swoon along with a pair of killer guitar solos, the very pretty “Beautiful Machine Parts 3-4,” the dreamy, hazy “7 Stars,” and the McCartney homage of “Play Tough.” The album also has a “Skyway” that elevates itself over the more famous one from Minneapolis, and the beats on “Same Old Drag” could’ve come from a classic era New Order album.

Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel (and Olivia Tremor Control) plays and sings on this, as does Will Cullen Hart (Olivia Tremor Control). Founding Elephant 6 member Bill Doss (Olivia Tremor Control) officially joined the band for this release; he died in 2012.

In fairness to Schneider, I should note that some of the musical interludes are notable because they were written in the “non-Pythagorean scale” that he invented, and on the enhanced CD he includes instructions and an audio file to let you create a MIDI keyboard to play the scale.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Sundaal Song,” (even though I think it’s called “Sundial Song”)

Release Date

February, 2007

The Cover Art

Jesus fucking Christ. This is hideous. I guess the caterpillar is cute, but . . . fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. What an absolute travesty this cover is.

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