The Apples in Stereo last album 2007’s New Magnetic Wonder was packed with the US band’s trademark catchy riffs and perfect pop.
Even though tracks, such as ‘Energy’, were used aplenty in advertising by the likes of Pepsi and Samsung and even being covered on American Idol, the album still sounds as fresh, energetic and credible as it did when it was released.
Step forward to 2010 and the band, a leading light in the Elephant 6 recording collective and spearheaded by Robert Schneider, are back with Travellers in Space and Time, their second album on Elijah Wood’s label Simian.
Once again produced by Schneider it combines the same piano driven, catchy pop with his continued experimentation with music, including his own invention, the maths based Non-Pythagorean musical scale.
Schneider says of the new album: “I wanted to make a futuristic pop record, to reach out to the kids of the future. It is what I imagine their more highly-evolved pop might sound like: shiny soul music with robots and humans singing together.”
So has he achieved that? In terms of a realistic vision of the musical future, definitely not.
Travellers in Space and Time is at times is too robot than human, thanks mainly to the annoying use of an 80s sounding vocoder throughout. Bubblegum pop with robot sounding vocals is not exactly an original or inspiring vision of the future.
But while the album lacks the same soul of New Magnetic Wonder in places there are undeniably flashes of brilliance. Eighth track ‘Dignified Dignitary’ is quite simply superb. Choppy guitar pop that is as credible as a Robert Pollard release and can still be lapped up by advertisers and American Idol contestants. Like last year’s ‘Two Weeks’ by Grizzly Bear or Pheonix’s ‘Litzomania’ this is a top, top indie pop single.
I like the oddities on the album as well. Opener ‘The Code’, just a minute or so of a professor talking about the links between the maths driven ‘code’ and music.
‘Next Year About The Same Time,’ is another fine track, more like British early 80s synth pop of the likes of OMD. Other highpoints are the ELO influenced ‘Told You Once’ and ‘Nobody But You’, beautiful pop, with Schneider’s lyrics sounding really crisp.
First single ‘Dance Floor’ on the first few listens appeared a little bland, but gets more human and less robot with each listen thanks to its catchy keyboard hook.
But these gems cannot mask the vocoder laden low points. ‘Dream About the future’ gives an indication of what’s to come. Familiar Apples piano riff intro, but goes nowhere and lacks passion. ‘Hey Elevator’ is so bad it is almost unlistenable, a plodding track that thankfully fades out after realising it has nowhere to go.
And ‘CPU’, the supposedly quirky one, is not really that quirky at all or that futuristic. Devo were doing this kind of stuff in the mid 1970s, except they did it with humour.
Special criticism goes to ‘No one in the world, ‘Oh, Oh, Oh there’s no one in the world…like my little girl’ bleats out the sugary chorus backed with the ever present vocoder vocals, until it too thankfully fades out.
So where does Travellers in Space and Time sit in the grand scheme of indie-pop. It’s nowhere near as good as New Magnetic Wonder but it’s better than Yeasayer’s 2010 album Odd Blood and anything Passion Pit have done.
What is most perplexing is that for someone so interested in the production process Schneider has effectively sucked the life out of too many of the tracks.
by Joe Lepper, Apr 2010