By Ian S. Port
By Tony Ware
By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
The sun shines 300 days a year in Denver. Snow falls in December and melts away a day later in a 60-degree simmer. A mile high, the air is slight and dizzy. A glass of wine in California is two there; one joint at sea level hits like a quarter bag of Humboldt's finest at 5,280 feet. Landlocked by the Rocky Mountains and 1,000 miles of desert to the west and all the corn and sunflowers in the world eastward, the only ocean is the sky.
The Apples (who play the Bottom of the Hill and the Kilowatt this weekend) are, geographically and psychologically, a Denver band. They're also a pop band, a nostalgic band, and a happy band: They get MTV in Denver, but you'd never know it listening to the Apples. Anachronistic in sound and refreshingly irony-free, Colorado transplants and Apples principals John Hill (guitars) and couple Robert Schneider (everything but drums) and Hilarie Sidney (drums) have grown from a slight indie band to an orchestral psychedelic pop group that makes dense, beautiful records that owe mountains to Pet Sounds. In doing so, they're proving that milling the sounds of pop's wonder years doesn't mandate a smirk instead of a smile.
"It makes you feel kind of cra-zeee," says Sidney of the thin Denver atmosphere. That's one way of getting behind Tone Soul Evolution, the Apples' second album of new material since their signal 1995 release, Fun Trick Noisemaker. The new album is cra-zeee like rolling in grass, cra-zeee like a red jug drunk on a Saturday afternoon, cra-zeee like ringing guitars and horns and organs and ooh-ooh-ahhs. But if it's a cra-zeee record, it's also tinted with a sadness and loss that Noisemaker lacked. Evolution is fall to Noisemaker's endless summer; it's still bright out, but the shadows are longer and winter is close. From "Try to Remember": "If I cry I know I should think of December/ Summertime and sunshine are not far from that."
Sidney is talking from a hotel room in Montreal, where the clerks answer in French and the Apples are stopped for a night with Son Volt (in what has to classify as one of the weirder concert bills of the year). She concedes that the constant Colorado sunshine energizes both her and the band -- "Denver has that effect on a lot of people; maybe it's because the air is thinner" -- and agrees that Evolution represents an, uh, evolution.
"It's darker in tone," says Sidney. "It's more serious, less fluffy in general. It's more about things that happen every day ... songs about fights and relationships and being unsure."
It's also about death ("The Silvery Light of a Dream"), referential history ("Tin Pan Alley"), and assholes ("Heard About Your Fame"). Pop never promises the world; that's punk's job. Pop tells a tale (boy meets girl), says it's sorry (so very sorry), and daydreams (about what could've been). Sometimes sad but rarely weary, pop is excited and bursting with three minutes of exuberance. The Apples' pop is all of these things.
"Seems So" opens Evolution and sets a more consistent tone in 10 seconds than most records accomplish in 45 minutes. A guitar rings in the right speaker and it's almost instantly filled out by the tail end of the sound in the left. Within a second, it's covered by a chiming set of notes that play out as the sound resonates for four more seconds. Eric Allen's thick, warm bass is matched for the first few beats by drums and then deviates with a dip and a rise. Schneider's vocals come in and he's singing yet another melody. The words are about waking up in the middle of the night to a blinding light, a UFO or something extraordinary, and the verses deliver the kind of hooks that other bands save for choruses. When the chorus of hand-claps and ooh-la-la-las rolls around, he's trying to tell someone else about the experience, but he doubts himself. In the next verse he worries what his friend will think: "When somebody sees the sky open wide/ And rides the solar system/ If he saw the moonlight pass him by/ What would you think about him?" The query has the singsongy weight of a grade-school come-on ("What would you say if I told you someone has a crush on you?"). But at the end of the tune, his voice goes up a note or two and it turns out he's laying it all out for a shrink: "Oh doctor, it seems so, I don't know." Musically, if not art, it's supreme craft. Lyrically, the song is humble but not self-conscious. That's pop.
The Apples are now the Apples in Stereo. The band added the prepositional phrase because "The Apples" is not the most original name in the world. It's irritating -- not as irritating as Apples U.S. or some such nonsense -- but the choice is awfully telling: Tone Soul Evolution is the kind of record that you're supposed to listen to with a set of big headphones. The Apples' songs are as dense as rock gets these days; seemingly simple but endlessly complicated in production.