There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Back in the mid-’90s, when the crustier likes of Pavement and Guided by Voices were dominant, the Apples in Stereo set the scene for the (now firmly entrenched) Beach Boysnbesotted wing of the indie world. The band’s excellent debut full-length, 1995’s Fun Trick Noisemaker, was a harmony-laced, psych-pop swirl-a-thon that appropriated both the genius and goofiness of Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney. The band’s songs could be as wide-eyed as “In My Room” or as winsome as “Penny Lane,” but the Apples also brought the fuzz, applying an appropriate layer of crackle and hiss that never obscured ringleader Robert Schneider’s knack for pungent melodies. More than a decade on, New Magnetic Wonder proves that Schneider is still crazy for the catchy parts after all these years. The band hits a home run early with the opening track, “Can You Feel It?”—juicing its hook with fizzy synths, whammy-bar guitar, and what sounds like 17 layers of harmonic vocal sheen. “Same Old Drag” sounds like an ace K-Tel castoff, with Schneider putting the chord changes to ELO’s “Evil Woman” to good use on electric piano. The folksy, toe-tapping “Sun Is Out” is a “Bungalow Bill”nstyle strumfest, but it’s scuzzed up with a distressed recording technique that involves a hand-held tape machine in need of a good head swabbing. New Magnetic Wonder boasts 24 tracks, about half of which are segue snippets, and geek that he is, Schneider apparently couldn’t resist adding a pair of what he calls “Non-Pythagorean” compositions. If the press kit is to be believed, they usher in a new musical scale—but whatever: Each conjures up the sequence of tones you hear just before learning that your call could not be completed as dialed. The Apples are better when they put Schneider’s music-theory chops into pop-rock practice: The jangling “Sunday Sounds” boasts a radio-ready chorus and a lush vocal from Hilarie Sidney (who left the group after the album was recorded). As pithy and sublime as a great lost ABBA song, it’s a choice cut on an album full of keepers.