REVIEWED BY AMY Z. QUINN The last time Apples in Stereo released an album was in 2002, not long after being featured in a New York Times piece about the then-growing trend of indie rockers selling their music for advertising. In early 2001, when the piece ran, the Apples were still angsty over deciding they needed things like baby furniture as much as artistic cred.

Half a decade later, that baby furniture is probably still serving Hilarie Sidney and Robert Schneider’s child well, so in terms of the small world of their own family, they chose the right path [and later that path had meant divorce]. The unfortunate larger consequence is that in 2007, effervescent sunshine pop sounds to me like TV commercials, or Zach Braff movies. The jangle-pop aesthetic used to feel like an alternative world view, but now even the most perfect examples of the form — and there are several on the Apples’ fifth album — makes me think of Volvos and iPods.

This being the Apples’ first album in five years, there really is a lot here — so much so, it’s almost like three EPs: One, with perfect pop specimens; another of short, affecting interludes (‘Mellotron 1″ and “Mellotron 2” are a beautiful, drowsy pair); the third of well-intentioned pop efforts that don’t get there. Chalk that up to the fact that in the time since 2001, the weirdo-pop standpoint from which a song like “Energy,” the album’s first single, comes from became a bit dated. It kind of sounds like a commercial for laser printers, or a TV theme song — a fact that crept in my mind again during “Same Old Drag,” with its lovely sliding melody, and the clap-along “Joanie Don’t U Worry.” Probably it was because those songs are both addressed to a girl named Joanie, but I kept thinking “Happy Days.”

Fortunately, the handful of songs that are genuinely good — approaching great, in the case of “7 Stars” and the anthemic “Can You Feel It?” — stand out that much more on New Magnetic Wonder. I almost can’t wait until summer, so great is the desire to drive fast in the sun, singing “7 Stars.” And the exceptional “Sunndal Song,” which features Sidney singing, is already on my list of the year’s best songs.

New Magnetic Wonder debuts this week on actor Elijah Wood’s label, Simian Records, which at times seems appropriate. One song, “Skyway,” immediately brings to mind a well-photographed Gen Y tale of love, longing and adversity. Imagine Lindsay Lohan in a post-rehab, career-changing film that includes some kind of frantic chase scene over which the song plays. Now, none of this prevents “Skyway” from being a rollicking party of a song, with an itchy guitar and a shaking maraca you almost don’t notice until you’re dancing along to it.

“Beautiful Machine Parts 1-2” is fun, but its companion piece, “Parts 3-4” sounds heavy and forced. And “Play Tough” is a valiant effort (“You gotta play tough, my love/ when you play me for a fool”), but loses points for being one of three different songs on the album that feature a descending three-beat guitar scale ripped lifted right out of “All You Need is Love.” And on a song like “Sun is Out,” a loose, live jam with flutes and tambourines, it sounds more ripoff than homage.

[Courtesy of Econoculture]

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