As Elephant 6 Recording Company co-founder, The Apples In Stereo’s frontman Rob Schneider assembled one of the most progressive an important movements in American rock’n’roll.
Now, 14 years and seven releases into his band’s catalogue, he sounds almost trapped by the expectations that come with such a history. Having built a reputation for toying with velvety arrangements and sing-along psychedelic harmonies, Schneider now seems afraid to break that mold.
It’s not as if “New Magnetic Wonder” is predictable or the band is at its most traditional. Rather, it incorporates many of Schneider’s more-recent characteristics – the digital elements of his side project Ulysses – since it is the Apples’ first release in almost five years, we can only assume is where the songwriter’s heart is at these days, instead of being interested in penning layered guitar ditties.
In fact, of the album’s two dozen tracks, 10 are mostly electronic, instrumental fillers that are each less than a minute long. And of the 14 actual songs, tunes such as “Can You Feel It?” and “7 Stars” incorporate synthetic backbeats and loops.
It doesn’t seem out of the question that, had Schneider not been so tied to the Elephant 6 expectations, he would have indulged these programmed elements even more. It’s odd to hear him struggle with being so catchy, as if he wants nothing more than to toss in a challenging, jarring moment, but talked himself out of the decision because it would be too uncharacteristic for The Apples in Stereo.
Which is strange, given the E6’s propensity to experiment. However, Schneider’s appreciation for his band’s status as one of the Big Three of that historic collective now hinders his freedom to write music beyond just his traditional crunchy guitar tunes.
“New Magnetic Wonder” is still fantastically catchy, but there is an undeniable feeling that this isn’t the record its principle songwriter wanted to make.