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It’s February 1997 in Baltimore. The Apples in Stereo have just wrapped up a show with their musical best friends, the Lilys. I find myself chatting with Rob Schneider, the Apples’ affable, pudgy main man, who eventually asks me if I’m into Pavement. “Naah, not really,” I demur; I’m a Fall fan, you see. He nods and goes, “Yeah, if you’re a Fall fan, that’s understandable.” Then he looks sheepish: “I hope you’re not a Beach Boys fan.” Well, I’d heard the Apples/Beach Boys comparison before but never considered it apt. Schneider’s high, relaxed voice is a little nerdier than Brian Wilson’s California croon—and, for my money, at least twice as likable. The Apples’ new album, Tone Soul Evolution, takes their noisy, lo-fi, ’60s AM-radio pop sound and, with production help from the Lilys’ Michael Deming, polishes it a little more this time. Like the previous Fun Trick Noisemaker and Science Faire, the new release packs in plenty of luvvy-duvvy lyrics, blooping guitar noise, and cornball synth (à la Stereolab). But Tone Soul Evolution sounds just a little slicker than usual—you might say slightly defanged. Some mildly ill-advised brass arrangements even crop up here and there, as in “Silver Chain,” which drummer Hilarie Sidney wrote and sings. (Turns out she’s got a pretty nice voice.) But even though the Apples only occasionally reach Rubber Soulesque greatness here (“What’s the #?” and “We’ll Come to Be” both qualify), there’s little to complain about even when they don’t.—Jeff Pruzan

The Apples in Stereo play the Black Cat Thursday, Nov. 13.