It’s been five years since the last Apples in Stereo studio album, 2002’s Velocity of Sound. One could be concerned that The Apples’ bright, catchy music might feel out of place today, if not a retread, or that the band itself might have changed so much in the intervening half-decade as to render them utterly unlike the upbeat tune-sters of the nineties. However, New Magnetic Wonder puts all those fears to rest, as it bursts forth with a sound that draws on its own roots, and drags its influences along for the ride.
Ringleader Robert Schneider has managed to combine The Apples’ indie Beatles/Beach Boys pop-rock with a number of new influences, both expected and unexpected. With a spirit that comes directly from The Apples’ energetic early releases, he’s added a distinct hi-fi approach. Recorded over twelve months in five cities (all the way from Kentucky to Colorado), New Magnetic Wonder charts a path between the heavy guitar-distortion of Velocity of Sound and its wholly Liverpudlian-pop predecessor, 2000’s The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone. Some of this may have come from Schneider’s work over the hiatus: there are similarities in sound, if not in ethos, to his straighter (though far sadder) indie-rock Ulysses of 2004, and the polish might have been borrowed from his 2005 techno solo-release, as Marbles.
In their hiatus, The Apples also left long-time label SpinART for Elijah Woods’ just-founded Simian Records (insert Lord of the Rings joke here – bonus points for including a monkey). Schneider has taken advantage of that freedom to, among other things, create his “Non-Pythagorean Scale,” using algebra and logarithms to “replace the standard twelve tones in a musical octave with a completely new set of frequencies.” Such sonic inventions don’t burst through on first listen – though the double-sided CD includes digital sound files and an in-depth description. But the more-layered production of New Magnetic Wonder is immediately felt, and worth noting the behind-the-scenes accomplishment.
From the opening of "Can You Feel It?" and "Skyway", New Magnetic Wonder shines through as a distinct wonder, with many new parts, such as the twelve sub-minute-long "link tracks" scattered in between songs as segues. At times, the release can feel repetitive; the two tracks from vocalist/drummer Hilarie Sidney and the alliteratives "Sunndal Song" & "Sunday Sounds" feel more different than they really are (Sidney & Schneider divorced, and she left the band altogether in 2006). But with the openers and stand-outs like "Energy", "Beautiful Machine (Parts 1-2)" and "Beautiful Machine (Parts 3-4)", the album becomes "magnetic".