I approached Velocity of Sound
with some trepidation. There wasn't anything truly wrong
with 2000's The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone
, but after hearing it a few times I reached my Robert Schneider saturation point. In fact, I haven't really craved Beach Boys/Beatles-derived pop since then. Add a couple of lackluster Apples shows -- all that studio brilliance never quite makes it to the stage, in my opinion -- and you've got a recipe for indifference that even Velocity of Sound
's lurid, IKEA-friendly orange cover couldn't entirely dispel.
Perhaps I wasn't the only one a little tired of the Apples' sound. Perhaps fatherhood has reminded Schneider of the importance of simplicity, or merely cut down on the time he can spend in his studio. Whatever the reason, Velocity of Sound represents a radical departure for the Apples in Stereo -- it's a short and straightforward pop album, full of fuzzy guitars, helium-huffing vocals and infectiously sugary melodies. If Discovery was a heavy, traditional German dinner with all the trimmings, Velocity is a Balance bar and a small bottle of sparkling water.
"Please" opens the disc in high style, filtering sixties bubblegum pop exuberance through Cheap Trick, Ramones and Jesus and Mary Chain influences. The chords are big and fuzzy, the melody simple and soaring, the vocals joyous; yes, yes, we've heard every single one of the song's musical ideas before, but Schneider wields them with an expert's panache. Admittedly, he's always been a dab hand at reworking other people's ideas, but he takes it a step further on Velocity by resisting his instinctive urge to complicate. For example, "That's Something I Do" could probably accommodate a thick, syrupy synth line behind its planed-down, buzz-heavy lead guitar, but Schneider understands that it doesn't actually need one, and his restraint gives the tune a healthy amount of breathing room. "Where We Meet"'s slightly more complex pop-psychedelia defines its low-end with a gut-rattling live drum track, pins its highs with Schneider's unapologetically nasal singing and uses the synth as if it costs a dollar a note, applying farfisa-style drone in tiny, shiny patches. It also includes a pair of guitar solos that, admittedly, sound like they've been blue-screened in, but the song never feels overloaded. Neither does the rest of the album, which delivers its eleven tunes in well under thirty minutes. There are a few lapses in judgment -- most notably the watery-sounding, rack-unit-gone-wrong vocal effect in "Mystery" -- but in general, the Apples have embraced the joys of the simple life.
In terms of pure power-pop delight, Velocity of Sound is hard to beat -- it's one of those records that taps directly into your musical pleasure center and jabs repeatedly at the best bits. If you're looking for substance, look elsewhere; Velocity is memorable less as a series of discrete pop songs than a fuzzy orange (or if you're in Europe or Japan, green or blue, respectively) blob of musical cotton-candy. It's pure heaven on your tongue, but prolonged exposure will probably rot your teeth.
Cynics will dismiss Velocity of Sound as Schneider's bid for sustained credibility in a musical climate that values down 'n' dirty garage rock over mad studio skillz and Brian Wilson inspirations. They may well be right -- but so what? If the Apples in Stereo have decided to trim the fat from their music in the interest of remaining relevant, more power to 'em. I'm sure I'll reach a point at which the mere thought of Velocity of Sound will make my teeth hurt, but for the time being, I'm keeping it close to the stereo. It's a fast-acting tonic that always seems to turn my mood around.