After spending their early years operating in the considerable shadows of Neutral Milk Hotel and the Olivia Tremor Control, the Apples in Stereo is the last band of the original Elephant Six — a collection of indie bands who gained notoriety in the early ’90s — still making music.
And while they never earned the fawning critical praise heaped upon their labelmates/collaborators, it’s worth noting that the Apples have been remarkably consistent for nearly a decade after the other two bands disbanded.
“Electronic Projects for Musicians” collects 12 years worth of B-sides and unreleased material. With a couple exceptions, it’s easy to see why these songs never made a full-length album.
“Shine (In Your Mind)” kicks things off with clean electric guitars and typically upbeat lyrics. The track previously made the Japanese release of “Fun Trick Noisemaker” and there are definitely a few tracks on the U.S. version that it could have replaced. “Thank You Very Much” delivers the same charm, with Robert Schneider and Hillarie Sidney harmonizing over a piano’s lethargic chord progression.
Other highlights are the consciously quirky songs. “The Apples Theme Song,” with tongue-in-cheek lyrics like, “We are the Apples in Stereo / You hear us rockin’ at the rock ‘n’ roll show,” is refreshing in an age of self-important musicians.
Stephen Colbert fans will get a kick out of “Stephen Stephen,” Schneider’s beach-pop ode to Colbert. “He’s calling out the bears in their evil lairs,” is probably the best line on the album.
Unfortunately, the rest of “Electronic Projects for Musicians” is a pale imitation of what makes the Apples so much fun to listen to.
All the same elements are there, from Brian Wilson-influenced melodies to crashing guitars and cymbals, but the band was wise to have relegated these tracks to B-sides and seven inches.
The songs are pleasant enough and enjoyable for fans, but far from the Apples’ best work. “Man You Gotta Get Up” sounds like one of “Velocity’s” lesser tracks and “The Golden Flower” sounds like subpar Yo La Tengo.
Another major weakness is the album doesn’t have any tracks featuring Sidney’s vocals, which are surely missed.
The album has a handful of curiosities as well, like the French lyrics on “Avril en Mai.” It’s also good to hear Schneider strip away his wall of sound for the acoustic number “Hold On To This Day.” But this release should be left to people who are already fans. The uninitiated would be better served to pick up “Fun Trick Noisemaker” or “New Magnetic Sound” rather than risk the relatively strange waters of “Electronic Projects for Musicians.”