While considerably less groundbreaking and experimental than some of their Elephant 6 Collective counterparts, Apples In Stereo succeed with New Magnetic Wonder in making a sugary pop album that is easy on the ears. Though, perhaps it is too easy.
The album opens with the rollicking, bright, and painfully poppy "Can You Feel It?," a piece that certainly gets your foot tapping but lacks any real lyrical or compositional depth. Many songs, such as "Energy" or "Play Tough" follow in this vein, with "7 Stars" being the most satisfying and successful of this hook-heavy type. They are sweet treats that accomplish their saccharine goal but leave listeners wanting more; perhaps more maturity from the band's sixth album.
The musical bright spots can actually be found in the album's darker and more unique moments, pieces that almost seem like afterthoughts. Robert Schneider ironically croons the melancholy lyrics of "Same Old Drag" to a happy tune reminiscent of a seventies sitcom opener. "Sun Is Out" begins as a thoughtful, lofi recording of Schneider, his guitar, and minimal accompaniment, and spirals into a chorus complete with tambourines and whistles. "Beautiful Machine Parts 1-2" and "Beautiful Machine Parts 3-4" seem to straddle both extremes of the album, with rock ballads that are sweeping and textured yet still feel like something we have heard many times before. The album is interspersed with short and interesting tracks, utilizing different instruments, voices, synthesizing techniques, and rhythms that serve as musical palate cleansers before the Apples serve us up more of the same.
Any disappointment in New Magnetic Wonder likely lies in part with the much hyped collaboration of musical genius and fellow Elephant Sixer Jeff Mangum. Mangum has created consistent and epic work and perhaps the album would have been finer had his hand been more evident, though a more profound collaboration may have unfairly obscured the DNA of the Apples In Stereo.
by Julie Alvin