The Apples in stereo
Travellers in Space and Time
"Since rhythm, expressed sonically, is one of the three basic components of music, there are those who will argue that a musician can learn the code much more quickly, and with less effort, than one who is not musically inclined."
That's the clinical greeting that begins this newest pop exploration by Robert Schneider and his latest Apples in stereo posse. The intro, titled The Code, is lifted from some antique instructional recording and is presented with a curious harmonic backdrop — the purposely audible scratches and pops of a well-worn vinyl album and a mounting synthesized gurgle. Such a sound indicates blastoff is about to occur. And it does with Dream About the Future, which boasts a bouncing piano line that leads into a sun shower of synths, Schneider's high pop-soul tenor and a chorus that sounds like the resurrection of ELO.
Forgoing the mix of psychedelia and Brian Wilson-style orchestrations from 2007's New Magnetic Wonder, Schneider inches the time machine up, but only by a few notches. The music settles in the early '80s with vocoder-saturated singing (as on the astral interlude Strange Solar System), synths galore and a wonderment of pop and soul references that will have you playing "Spot the Influence" throughout Travellers' 16 tracks.
Sometimes those inspirations serve more as catalysts, as in the way the Prince-like dance grooves trigger the nicely faux-dramatic pop turns of Hey Elevator. In other instances, they smack you in the face but good, as with the broad ELO hooks and harmonies of Nobody But You. But Schneider is quite the efficient pop historian here. He knows good and well that when you're channeling ELO, you're also channeling the band it broadly borrowed from — The Beatles.
There are loads of other fun retro stops throughout Travellers. Suggestions of Todd Rundgren-style Philly pop-soul lurk within the bright piano lead and call-and-response vocoder singing of Told You Once, while bassist Eric Allen's Next Year at the Same Time slips modestly back into psychedelia with its denser beats and keyboard-generated woodwinds.
The whole mix is something of an affirmation. Fanciful and futuristic as it strives to be, Travellers reveals the beat of a generously sunny but traditional pop-soul heart.
That point is discreetly brought home with the concluding Time Pilot, where another spoken narrative, this one lifted from an instructional record on hypnotism, works almost like a mantra over a vocoder verse from Schneider about the unstoppable passage of time. "This relaxed condition will remain with you," the hypnotist continues, "developing more strongly each time you play this record."
Power pop warmth? Sunny synth cheer? A glimpse of the future with a Zen-like promise of bliss? All on the same album? Sign me up for that.
Walter Tunis, Contributing Music Critic