Olivia Tremor Control are the flagship band of Elephant 6, and Neutral Milk Hotel tend to steal all the thunder with their In The Aeroplane Over The Seaalbum, but it was the Apples In Stereo who had the first true recorded output from the collective, as well as one of its earliest and best albums. If nothing else, Fun Trick Noisemaker proved Robert Schneider had a gift for hooky, melodic songwriting. At the same time, the album more or less defined the aesthetic of Elephant 6, with its warm, mid-fi production, intricate 'Wall Of Sound' style layering of sounds, and a strong debt to 60s pop music, specifically the music of The Beatles, Beach Boys, and their many followers. Rather than be a slavish imitation of Pet Sounds or Revolver, however, Fun Trick Noisemaker takes inspiration from that music but is its own thing entirely. You can build on the past without needing to build with the past. 'Tidal Wave' and 'Green Machine' bear a sound that is not so much timeless in the way the Beatles are timeless, but timeless in the sense that they could be from the 60s, the mid 90s, or today.
In fact, it's this album's mix of 60s psychedelic/art pop and early-to-mid 90s indie rock that just does it for me. It's similar to my trembling addiction to Panda Bear's Person Pitch, an album that freely blends a strong 60s vibe with hip hop and electronic music sampling/looping techniques. As for Fun Trick Noisemaker, you could file this somewhere between Pavement and, I dunno, the Zombies and be done with it. 'Pine Away' is exactly what I mean, since its rhythm guitar sound and languid drumming wouldn't be out of place on Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, while the nasally, slightly druggy vocals and melody are redolent of much 60s music. Not that the album is only just this way: 'Glowworm' is all jangle/power pop until the guitar solo, which is pure fuzz distortion. The majestic instrumental 'Innerspace' reminds me of a less jazzy Television, while 'Dots 1-2-3' is full of surging energy that predates the power-pop of The New Pornographers, if not also anticipating the early 00s garage rock revival.
The Apples In Stereo are one of the few Elephant 6 bands that have stayed active from their mid 90s beginnings to present day, so it's a bit odd that their first, and some would argue best, album is out of print. Stuff by Beulah and Elf Power are out of print? Sure, that makes sense. But man, this is Fun Trick Noisemaker we're talking about! Well, here's hoping someone buys the rights to it or it gets a re-print. This album is one of those gems that you happen across during a slow period for music you're interested in, or, say, during a flagging period of interest in and inspiration for writing about music, and it reminds you why you love it so much to begin with.
5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5