Robert Schneider is working in reverse. As co-founder of the infamous Elephant 6 Recording Co., Schneider helped to usher in a new psych-pop renaissance of the ’90s. Weaned on the pop confections of the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Byrds, bands like Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, Beulah, and Schneider’s the Apples in Stereo all delivered hi-fi ways from lo-fi means. The Elephant 6 aesthetic (dense multi-tracking, shining melodies, stimulating experimentations) was as not only its calling card, but an attempt to reclaim audio intoxication from grunge’s more literal-minded approach.
Now the Elephant 6 is officially defunct; Schneider, recently divorced from fellow Apple Hilarie Sidney, packed up his Pet Sounds Studios and moved from Denver, Colorado to Lexington, Kentucky. After an impending collaboration with XTC’s Andy Partridge stalled, Schneider enlisted Lexington locals John Ferguson and Ben Fulton (both of Big Fresh) and Robert Beatty (Hair Police) to begin a new garage-pop project. Adopting a less-is-more approach to recording (and abandoning the layered sweetness of his previous projects), Schneider recorded the band live, in mono, around one microphone. They call it Ulysses. Like I said, Schneider is working in reverse.
Despite its complete 180 in sound recording methodology, Ulysses’ 010 suits Schneider well. By focusing more on the song and performance than the process, 010 places a new side of Schneider on display. The songs are simple and direct, exhibiting raw emotion rather than premeditated complexity. Sounds fight for prominence in the mono landscape, claiming the foreground and surrendering to the rear. In addition, Schneider’s songs for Ulysses owe more to the slacker pop of Pavement than the lavishness of ’60s British Invasion imports. It’s a nice palette cleanser all around; while Ulysses is still unmistakably Schneider’s band, it’s a welcome diversion from his more polished projects.
010 can be read as Schneider’s break-up record, as it’s lyrically more serious and self-loathing than anything in the Apples’ catalog. “I wanna push you away and set you free,” Schneider sings in the droning opener “Push You Away”. The kiss-off “Television” surrounds its garage rock in washing machine synthesizers, with Schneider assuring that he’s “better off now”. His trademark nasally voice is more vulnerable and less geeky when it’s taken to the limit in “Glacier” and unleashes the untamed strain of “Change”. He feeds his inner Brit mod with the whiplash of “The Falcon”, whose lyric “Inside my brain / I crave annihilation” comes closest to self-destruction.
Ulysses saves the best for last with the Velvet Underground-infected “Her Silver Veil”, a glimpse of hope following the preceding attempts to distance oneself from a love. “We’re hoping for a better day,” Schneider sings, among the blossoming chorus’ gorgeous backing vocals, “Though it seems so far away”. It’s kind of like a new start for Schneider, and while it may not be as strong as the Apples’ Tone Soul Evolution or Her Wallpaper Reverie, you can feel that the next outing can only be stronger. In fact, if it weren’t for the synthesizers, 010 could be a forgotten garage band getting its bearings in the early ’60s. On second thought, maybe Ulysses isn’t all that different than the Apples. Perhaps when that better day arrives, we should be prepared for an entire mono movement to arrive with it.