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February 6, 2007

Shortcuts—Apples in Stereo's New Magnetic Wonder

It’s a universally acknowledged truth that winter quarter at the University of Chicago is terrible. Luckily, the Apples in Stereo have arrived just in time to remind us of happier, warmer, and better times with New Magnetic Wonder, their sixth studio album. New Magnetic Wonder displays a glossier sound than their earlier work, though it’s still chock-full of cheerful harmonies, infectious hooks, and grungy guitars. From the opening track, “Can You Feel It,” to the four-part opus, “Beautiful Machine,” New Magnetic Wonder gives you more upbeat rock than you can handle. The album differs from its predecessors in that it sounds like up-tempo ’90s rock mixed with a little ELO, rather than simply unalloyed up-tempo ’90s rock. While this might seem like a questionable choice, the Apples in Stereo make it work—limiting the more overtly retro sounds, like excessive vocoder, to interludes like “Joanie Don’t U Worry” and only adding the occasional keyboard line or orchestral arrangement to longer tracks such as the plaintive “7 Stars.”

The interludes function as bridges and small sound experiments, a trait most apparent on lead singer Robert Schneider’s compositions, written in his newly-invented “non-Pythagorean scale.” Interludes comprise 11 of the 24 tracks on New Magnetic Wonder, which means that the album is tighter than it appears, and works best when listened to as a whole.

While New Magnetic Wonder represents something of a break from past albums, the Apples in Stereo have not abandoned their previous formula entirely. Fans of earlier albums should find enough to like on these new offerings, which seem tailor-made to cheer. “Energy” and “Radiation” stand out in particular. The strumming guitar and lackadaisical lyrics in “Energy” are pure pop sunshine, while “Radiation” offers up the most beautifully affirming few seconds of music I’ve heard recently when Schneider sings, “You gotta get back to that place that/ you know you’re gonna see your friends again.” That simple line serves as a tangible reminder that, though it may be freezing outside, spring is right around the corner.