The Apples in Stereo

Velocity of Sound (SpinART)

Over the years, the Elephant 6 Collective has become a highly drop-able name among the indie rock intelligentsia. So drop-friendly, in fact, that the musical alliance showed up in last fall's Vanity Fair Rock Snob's Dictionary, described thusly: "Loose collection of interrelated neo-psychedelic bands with power-pop leanings, anchored by the Apples in Stereo and their leader, Robert Schneider. Apparent requirements for Elephant 6 membership are a retro-baroque band name (Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, Dixie Blood Mustache, Ladybug Transistor), a willingness to share band members, and a grad-studentish indifference to personal appearance."

But despite the Apples' rather cultlike status, the group's members have never produced a particularly noteworthy album, including, sadly, their fourth full-length, Velocity of Sound.

In the past, the band has drawn criticism for its uncanny resemblance to orchestrally minded pop groups -- especially the Beatles and the Beach Boys. On Velocity, the quartet leaves much of its trippy vibe behind, favoring faster, fuzzier guitars that suggest the players have been spending quality time with their Ramones records.

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The few standout tunes on Velocity don't recall the '60s at all. "Better Days" features a playful twang redolent of They Might Be Giants, while "Rainfall" exudes a pop energy that rivals the Go-Gos'. With lead vocals from drummer Hilarie Sidney, the latter number offers some of the only interesting lyrics on the LP: "Downtown is like a slot machine/ Shine neon signs and stoplights turn to green."

Of course, it wouldn't be a Schneider-touched work without some nods to '60s pop. "Where We Meet" combines crackly guitar riffs reminiscent of the Kinks, and the album's closer, "She's Telling Lies," is such a blatant Beach Boys rip-off you might as well go buy the real thing instead.

That similarity is the problem with much of the Apples' music. Though their sound is warmly familiar, the Apples lack the emotional tug and the innovative inspiration of their predecessors, making the group rather lackluster in comparison.

The Elephant 6 collective is admirable for its devotion to eclectic musicmaking, but Velocity of Soundsuggests that Schneider and company draw far more interest for their affiliations than for actual musical merit. Perhaps the rock snobs have their noses in the air for all the wrong reasons.

 
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