Listen to any album by the Apples in Stereo, and you’ll know why the group’s main man, Robert Schneider, calls his Denver recording studio Pet Sounds. The Apples peddle power pop rooted in the light 60’s psychedelia that sprouted from Brian Wilson’s sandbox.
There are several moments on The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone (spinART) that pay such slavish homage to Mr. Wilson and his contemporaries that you’ll want to change the sign on Mr. Schneider’s studio door to Teacher’s Pet Sounds.
But if Moone reflects the California sun a bit too brightly, it also shines with musical qualities long missing from the popular landscape.
It’s increasingly difficult to hold onto the threads of five years ago, let alone 35 years ago, at a time when the digital revolution recognizes nothing but its illusion of the future. Music critics inevitably hold the opinion that the youth of today are due for a history lesson, but never has that notion seemed quainter. Yet look at the current landscape. Pop and popular music are long split. The catchiest melody in a good while can be found in Pepsi’s “Joy of Cola” commercial, and bands such as Oasis are attempting Beatle-esque mimicry without any understanding of the music they’re trying to imitate. Little wonder the brothers Gallagher have been unable to conjure a single memorable hook. They can’t even get the glasses and haircuts right.
Power pop of this sort has become pretty much a sucker’s game these days. As vanguard bands such as Loud Family, Negro Problem and Matthew Sweet have discovered, “songcraft” and “professionalism” have somehow become code words for painful dullness. The kids, we are assured, do not wish to hear of such qualities.
Apples in Stereo (as well as the other members of Elephant 6 Recording Company, the loosely neu -hippie collective of member-sharing bands that includes Olivia Tremor Control) have so far avoided this fate. The collective’s output has garnered a youthful, if geeky, base of enthusiasts, although I suspect that it’s only a matter of time before the crowd wanes to a mumble. I mean, if Big Star’s Alex Chilton, 25 years down the road from his muse, finds himself singing “Lipstick Traces,” as he does on his new CD of covers, Set (Bar-None), what hope does the new breed have?
For now, the Apples, more than the other Elephant 6 bands, hold the title of amiable and melodic indie eccentrics recently abdicated by sell-outs Guided by Voices.
Mr. Schneider has a smart ear, and he knows what to crib: George Harrison’s fingers, Ray Davies’ yearning, Mr. Wilson’s arrangements, Roger McGuinn’s nasal vocals.
Despite the fantastical title, Moone mostly deals with girl-boy stuff, in a contrary, though vaguely cheerful, manner. I suspect this has less to do with any disrupted romantic reverie (Mr. Schneider’s long-term squeeze, Hilarie Sidney, plays Stevie Nicks to his Lindsey Buckingham in the band), other than that it gives Mr. Schneider the chance to communicate his negativity by multi-tracking catchy “neah-neah-neah” backing vocals, as he does on “The Rainbow.” “Stay Gold,” on the other hand, sticks to the “bah-bah-bah-bah” of the Pepsi commercial. Now that’s professionalism.
Trainspotters such as myself might titter over the horn track on “Go” that sounds lifted from the Byrds’ “Artificial Energy,” but we would just as easily curse the current mainstream for ignoring it. The Apples may suffer from Simon Says syndrome, but Simon so rarely opens his mouth these days.