Album Review: Travellers In Space And Time by The Apples In Stereo
Very Good, Based on 10 Critics
Filter - 87 Based on rating 87%%
The Apples in Stereo keep pummeling their psychedelic path—their albums flinging you through multiple emotional stages—the predominant state being that of frustration. There is such a multitude of ideas running through frontman Robert Schneider’s head that his brand of apocalyptic music bleeds into other bands (Marbles) and never fails to sit on just one record. Of course, frustration always turns into complete amazement in Schneider’s ability to produce at least three universe-changing tracks per album.
In the three years since the release of New Magnetic Wonder, something strange happened to the Apples in Stereo's Robert Schneider as he was writing songs and plotting for the group’s seventh album, Travellers in Space and Time. Maybe he accidentally caught Xanadu late at night on cable, maybe someone slipped an ELO song onto a mixtape, or maybe he caught a disco oldie while flipping across the radio dial, but no matter where it came from, suddenly the Apples’ main goal in life is re-creating the sound, feel, and magic of ELO and Olivia Newton-John's “Xanadu. ” Schneider and the group (which includes Elephant 6 mainstay Bill Doss and a bunch of guys who can do just about anything, including contribute some fine songs to the track list) layer vocoders, disco strings, wacky synths, and pulsing dancefloor beats into their trademark bubblegum indie and come up with an album that will surprise a lot of people.
The Apples in Stereo’s Travellers in Space and Time could be considered an aural companion to Sir Patrick Moore’s 1983 book of the same name. Both works attempt to transport us through the solar system and to focus our imaginations on possible futures. Both conjure the future, in the present, using evidence from the past. Thanks to the wonders of light travel distance and redshift, we are actually looking back in time when we see images from space.
When this album appeared on my radar, I was a little surprised. I had lost contact with The Apples in Stereo since the pseudo-dissolution of Elephant 6, which, despite its somewhat recent revival, seems like a utopian dream from a bygone era. Indeed, the concept of tape-trading high school/college kids forming a collective to start a lo-fi studio and label with a small rotating stable of bands cross-pollinating members and styles screams Gen X.
Math? Schmath. In early 2007, the Apples in Stereo reemerged from a long hiatus with a fine new album, New Magnetic Wonder, and a bunch of talk of the "Non-Pythagorean Musical Scale." It was something only a nerd like Apples frontman Robert Schneider could conjure: a non-traditional tuning system that, once your ears adjusted to its logic, started to make its own oddball sense. That Schneider, a scholar of form, spent his time off sitting around thinking big thoughts about pop music was a comfort, but the record belied any geek speak.
If ever Mike Myers decided to resurrect Austin Powers one last time, he could do worse than seek out Denver's Apples in Stereo to provide the musical accompaniment. Having revelled in unpretentious kitsch with a serious Sixties disposition for nigh on 20 years now, the Robert Schneider led sextet would be ideal candidates for the soundtrack, while the long-awaited sample of commercial success to go with the critical acclaim they've been lauded with throughout their career would be most timesly. Having released their first album back in 1995 and worked with such feted outfits as The Lilys, Neutral Milk Hotel and The Olivia Tremor Control, it's perhaps surprising that they've remained a perpetually cult concern; even more so bearing in mind the overtly radio friendly nature of their music: inoffensive on the ears without resorting to schmaltz or tackiness, yet still deeply steeped in Sixties nostalgia of a psychedelic vein.
Sextet blasts off but remains in orbit Those who’ve come to love The Apples in Stereo for the band’s colorful, high-energy tunes won’t be disappointed by its seventh studio album. Travellers in Space and Time leans heavily on futuristic kitsch, sporting campy touches like robotic pulses, vocoder sound-scrambling and intermittent directions from a Charlie’s Angels-esque commander. “Whether you are lying down or seated in a chair, adjust yourself to your most comfortable position,” the British-accented man intones.
Like disco? Like ELO? Then you'll enjoy the Apples in Stereo's seventh album, which offers up an unprecedented sound for the sprawling indie rock band from Denver, Colorado. The beats and lyrics are lightweight and simple, while the hooks and horns get laid on thick and sweet. As the title suggests, there's also a cosmic bent going on, particularly on Strange Solar System and Floating In Space.
It’s pretty easy say The Elephant 6 was the best thing to happen to the ‘90s. Between the collective brilliance of Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal, The Olivia Tremor Control and other, more unrepresented bands, its musical lineage is easily one of the most impressive in indie rock’s brief history. That brings us to The Apples in Stereo. One of the founders of Elephant 6, they’ve always been more musically approachable than their counterparts, (and un-coincidentally, more commercially prominent,) but they’ve never really replicated the divergent brilliance of the collective’s other acts.
The years following the demise of the Elephant Six collective have seen a dispersion down well-worn paths for most of its members, ranging from near-instant, self-sabotaging implosion (Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, Beulah) to breakaway creative renewal (Of Montreal, Elf Power) to low-profile semi-retirement (Circulatory System). Yet the Apples in Stereo is the only act that, despite a five-year hiatus in the middle part of the last decade, have actively explored self-parody, releasing albums that, while trying to flex creatively, have strained themselves in all sorts of ways. This continues with Travellers in Space and Time, an insufferable post-twee jaunt which represents the messy sound of a band fooling around with a studio full of toys.