Apples in Stereo is raging grungy punk from Cajun Country. They don’t wail love songs, they don’t ask you to feel sympathy — they write about rain, tambourines and a looking glass. It is youth filtered through the eyes of someone too content to need to look for some kind of Nirvana. Since its inception, Apples in Stereo has lingered in the shade of its lo-fi cousins, Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control. The founding members of the three bands grew up in the same hometown of Ruston, La., and together were instrumental in revitalizing 90s indie rock. On Apples in Stereo’s latest release, “Velocity of Sound,” the band emerges from the long shadows of its high school buddies.
Lead singer Robert Schneider opens the eight original tracks and two collaborations with the pop-punk ballad “Please.” Tinged with the backing vocals of drummer Hilarie Sidney, “That’s Something I Do” comes off as a happy sequel to the Pixies’ song “Gigantic.” Skipping through sunsets and starlit bays, “Velocity of Sound” takes us on a journey through days spent hanging out, eating ice cream and cruising on asphalt. But lingering behind all the cheerful surface is an unsettling theme of despair and failure — “Sunken into the same place, it’s not how you want to be.” Schneider asks, “Do you understand why I hold a dagger in my hand?” In general, darker lyrics tend to dominate when they are coupled with lighter music. But in this case, the music overpowers the lyrics, leaving a good feeling in the bottom of your stomach.
With cryptic lines like “Downtown is like a slot machine” and “I tried to call your satellite, but baby you would not receive,” Schneider’s lyrics are anything but superficial. This is something of a signature of Apples in Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Olivia Tremor Control. Even the names of the three bands do not really mean anything, but they don’t have to — the message is clear, and there is a wonderful simplicity in the way these Acadians express themselves. They grew up listening to Sonic Youth, Pink Floyd, and the Beatles, and it shows. “She’s Telling Lies” is an ode to the Beach Boys, the Apples’ version of Offspring-meets-surfer-rock. The band first got together over their mutual affection for George Martin’s beach bums, so it is appropriate that this latest opus ends with an Apples in Stereo way of saying “Let’s catch some waves.”
While the entire album clocks in at just under half an hour, it did not feel any longer than 10 or 15 minutes. “Velocity of Sound” is an enjoyable (if brief) break from the mundane and a good follow-up to Apples in Stereo’s previous work. If you’ve never been a fan of Apples in Stereo, now’s the time to start.