But I wasn’t done searching for summer music.
And this record - the very name of it - promised to have exactly what I needed.
The Apples in Stereo: New Magnetic Wonder (2007)
And in several individual moments, it delivers. Which only makes it all the more frustrating that it doesn’t do so more consistently.
The title is actually pretty accurate. Guitar pop, with synths added. Another weird voice that shouldn’t work but does.
So I would like to report that the tunes are so sharp that any quibbles I might have about overproduction or silliness are swept away in a sea of cascading melodies, lush harmonies and deft chord changes, because that’s what my first impression was.
Alas, it’s more complicated than that. Not all of the tunes rise to the level made in that first impression.
In a lot of ways this is the polar opposite of the Go! Team. That record was tuneful but rough, spontaneous and lo-fi, with the exuberance of youth throughout. This one is tuneful but slick, detailed and produced to a within an inch of its life, with the calculation of of a pop professional throughout.
That’s not exactly a criticism. After all, there are about six excellent and four great pop/rock tunes here. The problem is that they are surrounded by short musical interludes of varying quality, and are suffused with synths and voices channeled through said synths. The treated vocals remind me of Trans, which is okay, but I’ve already got Trans.
It’s like they’re aiming for a masterpiece and give every single detail way too much attention, when just a couple of more great songs would have done the trick. That’s okay. A lot of records are like that.
Interestingly enough, mastermind Robert Schneider’s high, nasally voice - which sounds like he’s singing to you through a phone line - is not the problem. The tunes are written with such cunning that they actually take advantage of said voice. The vague sci-fi surroundings help in that regard as well.
We start off with two very bright and energetic rock oriented cuts, which are so well performed it takes you time to notice they’re not quite great.
But then we get to “Energy” and we’re suddenly on another level. You realize how melodic a songwriter Schneider can be. It ranks with some of the best pop of last decade. But then after several more good but not great songs, as pleasant as it’s been so far, “Energy” is the only one I love.
Don’t get me wrong, I love parts of all the other songs; the guitar part of “Play Tough”, the melody of “The Sunndal Song”, the lo-fi singing on “Sun Is Out”, the grandeur of “Open Eyes”. I could go on. And they do get stuck in my head, too. But not in the love-obsession way, more in the good-but-distracting way.
They score more often during the second half, with high points like “7 Stars”, “Radiation” and "Beautiful Machine, 1-2". It’s a shame we keep hitting minor bumps along the way that slow down the momentum.
So it’s fantastic in spots, frustrating in others. In a way, it reminds me of Badly Drawn Boy’s Hour of the Bewilderbeast, which via more consistent songwriting and less kitchen sink, is more successful.
And, not to be too unkind in the comparison, it's like the difference between the Beatles and ELO.
But if you put it on at a party, your guests may think it’s a great album. I just don’t know what they’re going to think the next day.
Still, having said all this, that party will be lots of fun.