It’s no accident that the Apples in Stereo had to add the “Stereo” to their name to avoid sounding too much like the Beatles’ record label – with their bright harmonies, catchy guitar hooks and “woah-oh-woah” lyrics, the Apples in Stereo just sound a heck of a lot like the Beatles, period.
“We’re doing music that’s very close to us,” Apples bassist Eric Allen said. “I guess it’s because it’s the first music we listened to, so it’s just natural. I don’t think of things in terms of, ‘Oh, I want to make this sound 60s.’ It’s just what I grew up on. Hopefully it sounds natural, but that’s the way it comes out of us.”
But the Apples In Stereo have more to worry about than reinventing Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson. The Apples themselves have been around for 15 years, and Tuesday released their sixth studio album, “New Magnetic Wonder” – now they have to worry about reinventing themselves. “I think it’s new in a lot of ways,” Allen says of “Magnetic.” “On our last album, the sound was very stripped down, sort of Ramones-y, but this one has kind of got everything. It’s a lot more varied than a lot of our albums.”
It’s been five years since the Robert Schneider-fronted Apples turned out their last retro offering, “Velocity of Sound.” Though the band officially hails from Denver, its members live all over the country and have spent the time pursuing individual side projects and, according to Allen, “just living our lives . hanging out with our girlfriends.” But Allen, who joined the band in 1995 after Schneider convinced the former guitar player to pick up the bass, assures Apples fans that the wait was well worth it: “It’s the best Apples album ever!”
Whether or not “Magnetic” lives up to the rough-edged rock of 2002’s “Velocity” or the smooth pop of 1997’s “Tone Soul Evolution,” the disc should get its fair share of play thanks to a couple famous friends. “New Magnetic Wonder” was the first album released on new label Simian, headed by Elijah Wood – yes, mop-headed little Frodo Baggins, Elijah Wood. “It’s incredible,” Allen said of the partnership. “Our album’s getting reviewed in more places, more interviews, a higher profile than we’ve ever had before. You can’t understate how much Elijah Wood has helped, just because he can go on Letterman and talk about The Apples in Stereo – no one’s ever done that before.”
“New Magnetic Wonder” also features some pretty high-profile contributions – it’s a veritable reunion for Elephant Six, rock’s own Fellowship of the Ring, a collective that spawned some of the 90’s most successful indie groups, from Of Montreal and The Apples to now-defunct bands Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel. Olivia Tremor Control’s Bill Doss has quietly joined as the band’s official keyboardist, while indie rock god Jeff Mangum will contribute, Pitchfork reports, “drums, cow object, backing vocals, handclaps.” While the sounds of hands clapping and a mysterious bovine instrument aren’t exactly the most significant of musical stylings, Mangum’s status as rarely-spotted yeti of the indie scene since the dissolution of Neutral Milk Hotel means that even a slight harmony on a new track should generate an unhealthy amount of buzz.
But is “New Magnetic Wonder” the “best Apples album ever”? On first listen, it sounds like the album might earn the Apples a more mainstream audience, with the almost too-catchy chorus of “Energy” and the simple sad-sack lyrics of “Same Old Drag.” The album, which features 14 tracks and 12 short musical interludes, trades the more intimate, breezy bliss of earlier work like “Tone Soul Evolution” for a very clean, polished production. The line between solid retro pop and shallow, throwaway tracks is thin, and The Apples fall on both sides of the line here. While Wood’s help will make their record cause a splash, whether Jeff Mangum’s slight presence is enough to keep fickle indie fans hooked remains to be seen.
One thing’s for sure – all the press and celebrity partnerships aren’t turning the veteran rockers into divas. Allen of life on the road, “I think the worst we do is like, smoke too much pot and fall asleep. That’s about as bad as it gets.”
Apples in Stereo will perform at Black Cat on Tuesday, February 13. Tickets are $13 in advance, $15 day of the show. Casper and the Cookies open, and the concert begins at 8:00 p.m.