Can you hear the Apples on your stereo?

by Beacon Staff • January 31, 2007

But what does an album with talk of Pythagorean scales sound like? Well, imagine if those animals on the cover of The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds boarded the spaceship on the cover of Electric Light Orchestra's Out of the Blue and started a rockin' band.,Prepare to rock out to a new musical scale, because The Apples in Stereo frontman Robert Schneider is debuting his new invention, called the "Non-Pythagorean Scale," on The Apples' energetic and latest album, New Magnetic Number.

But what does an album with talk of Pythagorean scales sound like? Well, imagine if those animals on the cover of The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds boarded the spaceship on the cover of Electric Light Orchestra's Out of the Blue and started a rockin' band. According to the Non-Pythagorean scale this would equal (one thinks) the sound of The Apples in Stereo.

New Magnetic Wonder marks a new era for The Apples, who just signed with actor Elijah Wood's new label, Simian Records, and witnessed the departure of drummer and second vocalist Hilarie Sidney. This ambitious new record is the gateway sound the band needed to break away from the indie status they've had since 1992.

Full of sing-along anthems such as "Same Old Drag," the power-chord-crunching "Skyway" and the infectious "Can You Feel It?" (which is a call to arms for people to turn up their stereos), The Apples have created an album that stays true to their previous work and is sure to impress longtime fans while gaining some new ones in the process.

The standout track on New Magnetic Wonder is the masterful "Energy." Sounding as if it were written 40 years ago by Lennon McCartney or Brian Wilson, "Energy" has a jangly acoustic guitar intro that could make any of the aforementioned individuals jealous of the pop excellence in this song. Sure, the words are lazy and tripe, but the conviction in Schneider's voice when he promises it's all going to be all right makes up for any of the paint-by-numbers lyrics.

Despite being an enjoyable album, New Magnetic Wonder does have drawbacks, and the album suffers because of them. During the recording of this record, The Apples apparently discovered what a vocoder was and started a tumultuous relationship with this instrument, as it appears on nearly every track. This instrument is the Yoko to this album.

The vocoder is not nearly as cutting edge in 2007 as it was back in the day when bands like ELO made it part of their repertoire because they thought this is what music in the future would sound like. These bands were partly right, but that doesn't make it sound any better.

The other drawback of this album is that at a sprawling 24 tracks, only 14 of these are proper full-length songs. The other 10 are musical segues that don't add to anything before or after them (yes, the sleigh and church bells on "Crimson" are nice, but we don't need 14 seconds of them), and unfairly slow down a record that would otherwise run smoothly.

Schneider has produced many terrific albums over the years, namely Neutral Milk Hotel's landmark album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. His passion to bring his band into that category of music is something to be admired.

Also, his development of new musical chords using algebra is the biggest expansion in music that a producer has given us in years (Step it up Timbaland!), which can enhance his band and all music in the future. Consider this album a giant leap toward something big in the future for this band; a future that is hopefully without vocoders.