Georgia's Elephant 6 Recording Company, a collective of musicians with the same penchant for lo-fi indie rock, has spawned an imaginative genre of pop music through a confusing system of mixing and matching bandmates. Trying to keep track of the various musicians' projects is like trying to understand the genealogy of an extremely incestuous family. But at the center of Elephant 6's messy musical family tree is the Apples in Stereo's Robert Schneider. Schneider helped start Elephant 6 in 1994, and whether he's producing or mixing the records, the Louisiana native has had a hand in a number of efforts by fellow Elephant 6 comrades (Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control, most notably).
The Apples themselves are a Denver quintet that proudly subscribes to the Beatles-meets-Beach-Boys school of catchy pop songcrafting. And with the Apples' fourth full-length release, Discovery of the World Inside the Moone, the band is, as always, in fine, cheery form. Songs are written in major keys, melodies are sunny and exuberant, and percussion is upbeat and exact. But beneath the veneer of smooth chord changes and nostalgic "na na na" backup vocals are fuzzy, scratched-out guitar lines that squeal with feedback, or bend into psychedelia. Swirly, bright melodies cycle into offbeat synth motifs that evoke images of hovercrafts and faraway galaxies. Moments of near-dissonant aural distractions resolve quickly into hooky, jittery rock. The record's lead track, "Go," is quintessential Apples: infectious melody, layered backup vocals, and quirky instrumental meandering anchored by bouncy beats.
But even so, Discovery of the World is -- dare we say it? -- a more mature Apples in Stereo. The band has come a long way since its 1995 debut album, Fun Trick Noisemaker, which featured chugging guitars, quick-paced drumming, and nutty sound effects. The band's second release, Tone Soul Evolution, chartered a more straightforward '60s rock 'n' roll course, followed by last year's Her Wallpaper, which wandered into more romantic, spaced-out territory à la Olivia Tremor Control. But Discovery of the World brings all these musical tendencies together for a more tempered, thoughtful display of the Apples' cheeky experimental pop. The percussion is more exact, and sometimes executed at slower tempos than usual. Coordinated guitar and bass lines hint at '70s funk and disco styles. There's less amp and more orchestration -- a chirpy, outspoken flutist plays prominently into several songs. And there's a greater vocal confidence that has those with singing duties jumping easily from quiet crooning to raucous rock 'n' roll delivery.
But even though Discovery of the World exhibits a more polished Apples sound, there's still an edgy flair to the record -- the band sounds mature, not old. The even-paced "Submarine Dream" is all swirly, underwater guitars and languid vocals. But the pretty, slow-dance melody is broken up by unexpected synthesizer spots, and roaring guitar interludes. And with its funky, jumping bass line, the extremely catchy "The Bird You Can't See" makes obvious references to disco and, perhaps, Sly & the Family Stone. But even with a reliance on retro sonic stylings, the Apples push music limits forward and outward with whimsical lyrics, electronic experimentation, and spacey synthesizer ditties.
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