Friday, November 7, 2008

Album of the Week: The Silver Apples- Silver Apples/Contact

I generally don't take guidance from my dreams. This is because they have little to offer my real life, consisting mainly of nightmare scenarios, violent confrontations, or regressive nervous worries from years past. But sometimes music creeps into my dreams. I find myself in a situation where I'm listening to something I've never heard before, as if my subconscious mind is creating new music that it knows will appeal to me. Then, in the dream, I ask someone what is playing and they tell me and it's a band I already know and the music suddenly changes to that. Last night, it was the Silver Apples, so here we are.

One of the best ways to start an argument with someone is to ask them what they think the best decade or era of music is. My gut reaction is to say the 60s, but then to revise to "the mid 60s to the mid 70s." Even though I'm ensconced in the music of my time, I think the only stuff worth following is the so-called 'indie/underground' music. During the mid 60s to the mid 70s, the best music was also, seemingly, the most popular. Yet as we revisit the past, we find that there were still a lot of bands that fell through the cracks. Some were very ahead of their time, others just didn't fit in with the on-going psychedelia and hippie-centric writing of the day, and there's something about the experimental music outside the typical Woodstock fare going on at the time that I find endlessly fascinating and timeless.

The Silver Apples were one of those bands. Possessing a bravura and willingness to make the kind of music they wanted to make, the duo produced two albums of futuristic electronic music that doesn't sound like much of anything before or since. Mixing the dreamy vocals and homemade synthesizer washes, drones, loops, and bleeps of Simeon Coxe with the endlessly imaginative, ever-evolving funky/jazzy percussion of Danny Taylor, the Silver Apples were like an American answer to the German krautrock bands of the era such as Can and Neu!, two bands also notable for being 'ahead of their time' and influencing many later bands yet still sounding contemporary and unique.

The first two Silver Apples albums, from 1968 and '69, are currently available on a single CD, and while I admire the bargain, I hope that people view these albums as separate entities instead of one long listen. They each have a character of their own even if they superficially sound the same with those crazy keyboards and that booty-shaking percussion groove that probably launched a thousand samples. The self-titled debut has more of a pop bent, with shorter songs and a more explicitly psychedelic tone particularly when it comes to the lyrics. Highlights here include the band signature tune 'Oscillations', droney synths meet ultra-tight drumming on 'Lovefingers', the tribalistic stomp of 'Dancing Gods', and 'Program', which will get you nodding your head along to the beat before you know it.

The second album, Contact, has a rougher feel to it while also adding strangely effective banjo(!!) on two tracks. Contact is less obviously hippie-ish than most of the self-titled debut which works in its favor in my book. It's hard to choose between the two albums in terms of favorites because they're equally good and it, then, comes down to personal preference: the more groovy and poppy debut, or the more experimental and varied Contact. At any rate, as far as I know the only way to get these albums today is in the single CD form so all this hairsplitting is meaningless from a consumer standpoint. So, then...'You and I' and 'I Have Known Love' pick up where the debut left off, crafting classic Silver Apples grooves you just want to ride forever. The two aforementioned banjo tracks are shockingly good: 'Ruby' is a short-ish electronic bluegrass drone and 'Confusion' is a nice breath of fresh air to what is mostly an oppressive electronic throwdown. The album draws to a close with the amusing 'Fantasies', which has Simeon Coxe talk-singing and guiding drummer Danny Taylor through the song with orders like "change course now" and "come back home."

If you're the kind of person who's always looking to expand his or her palette, to try out new things in the arts but also to go back to the undiscovered masterpieces of the ages, then this album is the kind of thing you need to pick up. It's adventurous but rewarding music, timeless but of its time, electronic yet not machine-like. In short, it's a must have.

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