The Apples in Stereo

TrackAlbum / EP
Running In CirclesScience Faire
Tidal WaveFun Trick Noisemaker
Seems SoTone Soul Evolution
RubyHer Wallpaper Reverie
Questions And AnswersHer Wallpaper Reverie
GoThe Discovery Of A World ...
20 Cases Suggestive Of ...The Discovery Of A World ...
Signal In The SkyLet's Go EP
PleaseVelocity Of Sound
EnergyNew Magnetic Wonder

Apples in Stereo photo 1

The Apples in Stereo (clockwise from top):
John Hill, Robert Schneider, Hilarie Sidney, Eric Allen

 

 

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Apples playlist

 

 

Contributor: Marc Fagel

The Apples in Stereo are one of the premier indie pop bands of the past quarter-century, frontman Rob Schneider consistently displaying an uncanny knack for Beatlesque melodies tucked into both straight 60s bubblegum and more baroque, XTC-styled compositions. The band quickly moved beyond their early lo-fi roots into increasingly sophisticated studio arrangements, Schneider’s decision to name his home recording facility Pet Sounds Studio leaving little doubt as to his ambitions. Along the way they created a series of solid albums and delightfully catchy singles, moving comfortably from shimmering pop to frenzied post-punk energy to electronic-infused experimentation, but always based around killer sing-along hooks.

Based primarily in Denver with side-trips to the Deep South, the Apples were a central hub of the 90s Elephant 6 scene; numerous bands who swapped musicians, toured together, and shared a musical sensibility derived from late 60s pop and psychedelia (with Schneider producing many of the bands’ records). Other affiliated acts, members of whom periodically played with the Apples, included the Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel. (I will be sharing an upcoming Toppermost cherry-picking the finest songs from this loose collective of bands; stay tuned!)

The Apples’ earliest singles and EPs, later collected on 1996’s Science Faire CD, were raggedy lo-fi affairs, firmly in the Guided by Voices school of laying down the hooks with little regard for sonic fidelity. Still, on tunes like Running In Circles, Schneider immediately established his gift for the earworm hook. This pop-craft was confirmed on the band’s full-length debut, Fun Trick Noisemaker. The album retained the lo-fi modesty of the initial singles, but came packed with insanely infectious tunes that don’t need studio tricks to shine. A few early singles, like the noisy, frenzied Tidal Wave and the sunshine pop of Glowworm, were reprised on the LP, joined by great new tunes like Lucky Charm and Dots 1-2-3. Winter Must Be Cold gave early visibility into the band’s secret weapon, drummer Hilarie Sidney (Schneider’s then-paramour), whose sugary-sweet girlish vocals and knack for devastating bubblegum hooks would come to the forefront a couple times per album.

On the follow-up, 1997’s Tone Soul Evolution, Schneider showed what he could do with some better production values. The album was again peppered with buoyant pop tunes, leaping out of the gate with the jangly Seems So, as well as the fizzy Shine A Light and We’ll Come To Be, songs that married McCartney-worthy songcraft with greater sonic polish. It’s a little more ballad-heavy, with some quieter tunes like About Your Fame, and lacks any Sidney contributions, but does a nice job of establishing the band’s staying power.

1997 also saw the release of a Schneider solo album, Pyramid Landing (under the moniker Marbles), mostly lo-fi recordings stripped of Tone Soul’s studio flourishes; it’s a little more diehards-only, though tunes like Sun To Shine highlight Schneider’s way with a sunshine pop hook.

The band took two years to return, and even then with just a brief EP. 1999’s Her Wallpaper Reverie featured a few songs padded out with sonic collages and snippets more in the wheelhouse of fellow travelers Olivia Tremor Control; but the actual songs were among the band’s best to date. Ruby is a delightful piano-driven romp, almost unbearably catchy bubblegum pop; while the trippy Strawberryfire is the band’s most deliberately psychedelic tune, an endearing updating of kitschy 60s tropes. Meanwhile, Sidney got another welcome showcase with the chipper Questions And Answers.

The Apples finally released a long-player in 2000, and while The Discovery Of A World Inside The Moone didn’t stray far from Tone Soul Evolution’s blueprint, the sonic ambience continued to improve, and the band managed some of their finest songs yet. Lead-off track Go is pure power pop bliss, with dense instrumentation, catchy hooks, witty lyrics, and energetic call-and-response vox from Sidney, complete with a mid-song go-go dancer breakdown. The Rainbow, I Can’t Believe, and Allright/Not Quite are nearly as wonderful; meanwhile, the driving 20 Cases Suggestive Of … continues to build the case for Hilarie Sidney’s power pop ascendance.

Discovery was followed by the short Let’s Go EP, worth a mention for its inclusion of two of the band’s silliest yet most lovable tunes. Signal In The Sky was recorded for the animated kids’ show Powerpuff Girls (and, yes, it sounds exactly like a song for a cartoon about super-powered girls should sound), which my daughter watched religiously back then and thus is a sentimental favorite for me; If You Want To Wear A Hat sounds even more like a children’s song, sweet and wonderfully disarming.

For 2002’s aptly-titled Velocity Of Sound, Schneider set aside the lush studio polish, infusing the album with bracing fits of distortion. Which isn’t to say he let up on the songs’ bubblegum hooks, simply augmenting them with sonic muscle better suited to high-volume playback. The album once again kicks off with a ludicrously catchy tune, Please reprising Go’s playfulness, but this time with even more guitar fizziness, the sort of song that leaves you torn between singing along with the pop hooks or pogoing madly in the air. Album closer She’s Telling Lies is no less fantastic, irrepressible Beach Boys revivalism amped-up for maximum decibels. The album’s energy rarely flags; Sidney gets a few more star turns on Rainfall and I Want, plus there’s a great Schneider/Sidney duet in That’s Something I Do. Even bassist Eric Allen gets his turn at the mic, on the punk-pop Yore Days. For lovers of indie power pop a little put off by the band’s more twee leanings, Velocity is the way to go.

The band took a five-year break after Velocity. Schneider, in addition to ongoing production work for various Elephant 6 bands, had a short-lived side-project called Ulysses; their sole LP, 2004’s .010, was a noisy, lo-fi mono recording, a more post-punk spin on Velocity’s heavier sonics. The rawness may turn off Apples fans, though Schneider’s reliable pop songcraft shines through on a few tunes (The Falcon, Burning You). Sidney, meanwhile, picked up a guitar and formed the High Water Marks with Norwegian guitarist Per Ole Bratset; 2004’s Songs About The Ocean, with Sidney and Bratset trading turns at the mic, was exactly the sort of effervescent indie pop that fans of her Apples tunes would expect. Additionally, Apples guitarist John Hill, who serves double-duty in the bubblegum-pop Elephant 6 act Dressy Bessy, continued to release a number of records with that band during the break.

The Apples regrouped for 1997’s New Magnetic Wonder. Dropping most of the noisier aspects of Velocity and the Ulysses side trip, the album returned to the lush sound of Discovery. Like the Wallpaper EP, the album is broken up by some distracting musical snippets, but even distilled down to the core songs it’s a sprawling affair, with a wide range of styles and moods. It opens with upbeat rockers in Can You Feel It? and Skyway, but for the most part sticks to quieter, mid-tempo pop. Energy is a fun swirl of voices and reverb (and has become an unlikely concert staple for jam-band Phish); 7 Stars is a lovely ballad augmented with shades of psychedelia and electronica; Same Old Drag is throw-back Bacharach-like piano-driven retro-pop; and Beautiful Machine is a 4-part suite that opens up with the album’s most infectious bit of dense pop before drifting into some wonky sprawl.

Unfortunately, as one of the hazards befalling a band with a romantic pairing, Sidney and Schneider went their separate ways (both personally and professionally) shortly before the album’s release. Sidney later married her High Water Marks partner, releasing a couple more delightfully fun albums with that band (most recently 2020’s excellent Ecstasy Rhymes).

With Sidney gone, the Apples took another break, filling out the time with a few compilations. 2008’s Electronic Projects For Musicians, notwithstanding the title, is a career-spanning B-sides collection. As with most compilations of this nature, it’s hardly essential (they can’t all be the Who’s Odds & Sods), but there are some decent enough tracks – Shine (In Your Mind) is certainly worthy of album inclusion, and The Apples Theme Song is whimsically cute (as is their tribute to Stephen Colbert). A year later they released a career overview, #1 Hits Explosion (the title every bit the alternative universe wishful thinking as Big Star’s #1 Record). It’s an unusually compelling collection, with a nearly perfect selection of songs (I think 8 of my Top 10 picks made the cut, and the balance of the songs on the record were in contention for inclusion here); while I’m generally a buy-the-album kinda guy, in this case the “hits” collection truly gets the job done.

Schneider also embarked on yet another side-project, forming Thee American Revolution with other Elephant 6 friends (including the late Bill Doss of Olivia Tremor Control). Their 2009 release Buddha Electrostorm offers boisterous 60s garage rock, trippy psychedelia crossed with White Stripes primalism, fun but unlikely to appeal to those who aren’t already firmly in the Apples/Olivia camp.

A reconstituted Apples in Stereo then came together for one final album, 2010’s Travellers In Space And Time, which incorporates a lot more keyboards and dance beats than prior work. There are a few infectious pop tunes recapturing the band’s classic sound, like Dignified Dignitary, Nobody But You, and the piano-driven It’s All Right; but elsewhere they sound a little more like Stereolab, with contemporary sunshine pop crossed with dance grooves. They deserve props for trying to mix things up a bit, but overall the album lacks the earworm immediacy of their best work.

Alas, the band has been silent since then, sitting out the rest of the decade (though they continued to perform live intermittently, at least pre-Covid); Schneider ended up getting a math degree. While they’ve left behind a seemingly-complete legacy of wonderfully infectious indie pop tunes, it’s hard to imagine Schneider doesn’t have some more great music in him, so hopefully we’ll get some new material in the new decade.

 

 

Apples in Stereo photo 2

 

The Elephant 6 Recording Company website

Robert Schneider discography

Robert Schneider’s website

The Apples in Stereo (Wikipedia)

Pitchfork’s Apples page

Robert Schneider Atlanta magazine interview (2018)

Apples in Stereo biography (AllMusic)

Marc Fagel is a recovering lawyer living outside San Francisco with his wife and his obscenely oversized music collection. He is the author of the recently-published rock lover’s memoir “Jittery White Guy Music”. His daily ruminations on random albums in his collection can be seen on his blog of the same name, or by following him on twitter.

Marc’s previous posts include Sweet, The Bats, Matthew Sweet, Badfinger, New Pornographers, Bettie Serveert, Flaming Lips, Neil Young, My Morning Jacket, Raveonettes, Phish, Luna, Jesus and Mary Chain, Feelies, Genesis, Wilco, King Crimson, Brian Eno

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