[4 May 2008]
The Elephant 6 Recording Company, a musical collective founded in 1991 in Denver, Colorado, is well known in the indie-rock world for producing some of the most influential and creative independent bands of the 1990s. Based around the psychedelic, 1960s-inspired values of creativity, unity, and musical cooperation, the once-thriving collective released dozens of albums throughout the 1990s. Some of the most notable bands to arise from E6 include the Apples in Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, the Olivia Tremor Control, and Of Montreal.
Most of these bands are now defunct, or at least on hiatus. Only Of Montreal (with last year’s electronic masterpiece Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?) and the Apples in Stereo are still releasing new records. Just last year, the Apples released their seventh LP, New Magnetic Wonder, to both critical and public acclaim. Today, the Apples in Stereo are still going strong, with Electronic Projects for Musicians as their first compilation of “rarities and outtakes”. These tracks are mostly songs previously released as bonus tracks or on seven-inch, and three are previously unreleased.
Robert Schneider, the creative brain behind the Apples, has always been a master of creativity, even going so far as to have tailored his own musical scale, the “Non-Pythagorean 12-Tone Musical Scale”. This creativity, so apparent on the group’s LPs, is no less present in these b-side gems from scattered pieces of the Apples’ past. Most of these tracks reflect the brighter, upbeat sounds of the Apples’ repertoire. There are no songs here as experimental as those on Her Wallpaper Reverie, but the album does represent a decade of Apples in Stereo evolution, with tracks recorded from 1995 up until 2006. In these 14 tracks, we find music echoing everything from the giddy optimism of their 1995 breakthrough, Fun Trick Noisemaker, to the thumping, distorted rock of 2002’s Velocity of Sound.
If music was edible, the Apples’ music would be pure sugar, full of catchy hooks and simple lyrics. But Schneider and the rest of the Apples gang manage to craft songs that are bright without ever being blinding. The appeal of these tracks ranges from intimate simplicity, as on the acoustic “Hold on to This Day” and “The Oasis”, to the zooming distortion of tracks like “Other” and straight-up rock of “On Your Own”.
This mix of sounds is what makes the Apples so engaging; their ability to take the modern, experimental elements of electronic music and juxtapose them beside very authentic, basic rock is mesmerizing. They are masters of balance, miraculously complementing fragility with force, earnestness with levity, and tension with release. For every passage of light naiveté (like “We want to make you feel all right / We want to make you see the light / We want to make you dance all night”), there is an opposing passage of epic, heavy sonic textures.
Electronic Projects is ideal both for new listeners—as it offers a good representation of the Apples in Stereo sound—and for seasoned Apples fans who desire tracks they may not have heard before. But the value of this disc is more than just the excitement of getting our hands on more material from one of indie’s greatest acts. It also serves as a powerful reminder of the values of unity and creativity that the Apples and their peers were founded on way back with the Elephant 6 collective. It’s refreshing to see the E6 logo on the back of the album cover, the first album in five years to bear it. In 1998, a Rolling Stone article covering Elephant 6 said, “It’s sad to think that one day, like most inseparable post-college crews, the collective will probably splinter.”
Today, a decade later, the collective has indeed split up. But thanks to the Apples in Stereo and this collection of bright, light, and beautiful melodies, it’s clear that the founding ideals of Elephant 6 are as influential and enduring as ever.