Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Apples in Stereo - Her Wallpaper Reverie

The Apples in Stereo
Her Wallpaper Reverie

Released 1999 on SpinART
Reviewed by Robin Tripp, 03/05/2007ce

1. I. Her Room Is a Rainy Garden (Wallpaper Reverie Theme) (0:11)
2. II. Morning Breaks (And Roosters Complain) (0:21)
3. The Shiney Sea (3:40)
4. III. The Significance of a Floral Print (0:37)
5. Strawberryfire (4:27)
6. IV. From Outside, In Floats A Music Box (1:00)
7. Ruby (3:08)
8. V. She Looks Through Empty Windows (0:14)
9. Questions and Answers (2:53)
10. VI. Drifting Patterns (2:44)
11. Y2K (2:23)
12. VII. Les Amants (0:33)
13. Benefits of Lying (With Your Friend) (3:35)
14. Ruby, Tell Me (1:00)
15. VIII. Together They Dream Into the Evening (0:14)

All songs written by Robert Schneider.

The Apples in Stereo were one of the original bands associated with the Athens based musical collective, The Elephant 6; a prolific, though often quite overrated network of bands that included the acclaimed likes of Circulatory System, The Sunshine Fix, Of Montreal, Neutral Milk Hotel and The Olivia Tremor Control. Like those bands, The Apples specialised in fuzzy, lo-fi, lightly psychedelic pop music, composed with a genuine sense of feeling, flair, style and imagination. As well as fitting in with the genuinely warped worldview of the E6, The Apples could also be seen as one of the key-bands of the mid-90's psychedelic revival, standing alongside the disparate likes of The Black Crows, Blind Mellon, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Oasis, The Verve, Primal Scream, The Flaming Lips and The Dandy Warhols, with the music featuring nods to acts like The 13th Floor Elevators, Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane, Donovan, The Incredible String Band, Barrett-era Pink Floyd, and the more obvious 60's pop influence of The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Monkeys and The Kinks. All of this is tied together by the twisted sense of humour and distorted imagination of the Apples principal songwriter/producer Robert Schneider; an incredibly prolific individual who has released music under the banner of The Apples in Stereo, as well as with his various side-projects, chiefly, The Marbles, Ulysses and The Orchestre Fantastique. All of this is alongside his songs for children project Robert Bobbert, in which his voice is sped up like a chipmunk, and his much acclaimed production jobs for The Olivia Tremor Control's Dusk at Cubist Castle and the two Neutral Milk Hotel albums, On Avery Island and In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

In keeping with the lo-fi aesthetic of those particular bands, the album in question is essentially an odd combination of psychedelic pop songs and experimental noise collages; all based loosely around the concept of drug-addiction and mental illness. The gag being that those suffering from severe schizophrenia or pumped full of weird hallucinogens would no doubt find hours of surreal enjoyment from watching the patterns of their wallpaper -- and with this in mind, the album attempts to document that strange and bewildering parlour room trip in the form of sweet, sweet music (or something like that). With these factors in place, I don't think anyone could really argue the fact that Her Wallpaper Reverie is as bizarre an album as you could possibly find; as weird as any of the psyche experimentation of the late 1960's and something that seems to exist in it's own private universe; only really making sense when viewed within the larger context of the other albums released as part of the Elephant 6.

With the sketchy and experimental nature of the album coming to the fore, there's still some confusion as to whether or not Her Wallpaper Reverie actually qualifies as a proper album or whether it should instead be viewed as a single EP. On the one hand it has fifteen songs listed on the reverse of the sleeve, but the overall running time is just under thirty minutes. I personally prefer to see it as a mini-album myself; something that should be enjoyed in a single sitting and as a complete piece of work within the Apples discography. If anything, it could probably be seen as a transitional work to a sound that never quite took off, with Schneider putting on hold a proper follow up to those first two critically acclaimed works, Fun Trick Noisemaker (1995) and Tone Soul Evolution (1997), and trying to have some fun in the recording studio; taking influence from fellow Elephant 6 band The Olivia Tremor Control to create a vague and hazy collage of kaleidoscopic noises and drones that merge, sometimes seamlessly, sometimes not quite so, with the sweet 60's pop-tones (creating something of an awkward, though never less than entertaining middle-ground between Fun Trick Noisemaker and an album like Dusk at Cubist Castle). It's also worth noting, perhaps, that the art work here was designed by The Olivia Tremor Control's Will Cullen Hart, which further stresses the similarities between this album and the work of Hart's own various cut and paste pop projects.

Regardless, Her Wallpaper Reverie, for me, remains a fine little album; one that moves from the weird bells and distorted organ sounds of the first two vignettes, into the full-coloured pop of The Shiney Sea; a beautifully hazy and blissfully buzzing little song that brings to mind something like Terrapin by Syd Barrett. The integration between the strummed acoustic guitar and the slightly foggy lead work is swoonsome and trippy as hell, especially when those weird buzzers come into play. Essentially, this track acts as a template for the rest of the more pop-influenced songs on the album, leading the way forward to the lovely bubble-gum pop of Ruby, the distorted girl-group harmonies of Questions and Answers (which is song by Hilarie Sidney in what sounds like her best Kim Deal inpersonation), the lulled indie rock of The Benefits of Lying (With Your Friend) and the gorgeous standout Strawberryfire; which has obvious nods to The Beatles' Strawberry Fields Forever, arguably the Fab Four's best song of all time, whilst simultaneously suggesting the musical landscape of the legendary XTC side-project, The Dukes of Stratosphear (see the great compilation Chips From the Chocolate Fireball for details).

The interludes may be of less interest to the casual listener; certainly many detractors of this album have suggested that they be cut completely, making the album an EP proper, with only the pop songs remaining. This is a fair enough criticism, but really, if you just want an album of the Apples doing straight 60's referencing psyche-pop you might as well get Fun Trick Noisemaker or the more recent album, New Magnetic Wonder. With the interludes we have variations on a single theme, with the opening track featuring the notes played on a toy piano, whilst the second track, which bridges the gap between Her Room Is a Rainy Garden and The Shiney Sea almost seamlessly, has the notes played on a combination of electric organ and distorted horns. The later interlude, From Outside, In Floats A Music Box, features more distorted horns, a hint of a moog synthesiser and the sound of farm animals, all creating the notes of The Wallpaper Reverie Theme, whilst the longest of the interludes, Drifting Patterns, features the reverie theme played in a full-bodied electronic arrangement, which suggests what Kraftwerk might have sounded like if they'd taken their samples from 1980's arcade games... or perhaps it's just one of the music settings on Tetris? There are of course weird little droning noises and shrieks going on in the background just to hold the listeners attention, with the whole thing kind of recalling the sonic-landscapes created by the aforementioned Olivia Tremor Control on their mini-narrative suite The Green Typewriters.

Some might dismiss these tracks, as well as the later Ruby, Tell Me (a continuation of the previous track Ruby) as pointless filler, but I think they serve some sort of purpose beyond the one-joke concept behind the album itself. Les Amants, for example, might only last thirty-three seconds, but in it's brief running time it suggests an air of fragmented paranoia and creeping dread that foreshadows the defeated sound Benefits of Lying, as well as tying in nicely with the repeated lyrical refrain of Y2K ("I know you believe the fucked up things that you read are gonn'a happen"), which was apparently inspired by Neutral Milk Hotel leader Jeff Mangum, who was, at one point, obsessed with the negative implications of the new millennium (that is, if the internet folk-lore and E6 hyperbole are to be believed). At any rate, we have an album of mixed acclaim and diminished reputation; one that has at least six songs that fans of the band consider to be amongst the best work the Elephant 6 as a creative unit, and a lot of small-scale experimentation that add to the greater whole. So really, whether or not you buy into the album and what Schneider and the band were trying to achieve will be entirely up to the individual. Personally, I love the hazy and summery sounds of the pop songs and how they juxtapose with the urgent and sinister quality of many of the shorter-interludes. Plus it's a great album to get stoned to... though admittedly, I've never found myself eye-balling the floral-print whenever the strange whistling effects and hypnotic drum-loop of Strawberryfire eventually kick in. Hmm, maybe I need to adjust my medication?

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