Silver Apples, Part 2

For 25 years, the Silver Apples were dead. Both members got other jobs (Danny Taylor at a phone company, Simeon Coxe as a graphic designer), while the giant contraption responsible for their sound was washed away in a flood. So it was for a long time, until in ’94, the German bootleg label TRC released their two albums on CD, and suddenly the Apples revival was on. All this came as news to Simeon, who had nothing to do with the bootleg nor the renewed interest in the band. One day he runs into a man named Xian Hawkins at an art gallery, who recognizes Simeon’s name and asks him if he’s aware of what’s going on. He isn’t, but the encounter inspires him to pick up a number of albums he was an influence on, along with a 1996 Silver Apples tribute disc. Even though he was making no money from these bootlegs and Danny Taylor was nowhere to be found, Simeon saw a second chance to take a crack at the music biz, and seized the opportunity by forming a new Silver Apples, with Hawkins and a drummer named Michael Lerner, who would later play for The Antlers. And so it was on.

I guess it goes without saying, but by the 90’s the influence had transcended the real thing. Their sounds and repetitive rhythms were now commonplace in electronic music, and the Silver Apples began to garner a reputation as the real grandfathers of techno, Kraftwerk be damned. They were being sampled by Stereolab, Blur, Unkle, and Meat Beat Manifesto, and The Folk Implosion had a fairly popular song that was littered with Silver Apples references (“Nothing’s Gonna Stop”, a half-cover of “Program”). The reunion shows wound up drawing interest from groups like Portishead and The Beastie Boys, the latter of whom offered to reissue legit copies of their original albums on Grand Royal (Simeon wound up forming his own record label for that purpose).

51P6KP528ZL._AC_UL320_SR318,320_Beacon was the Silver Apples’ comeback album, and it’s kind of hard to dance around the fact that it’s mostly a disappointment, though I suppose having any expectations at all for a cult icon who had lain dormant for nearly three decades is probably a mistake. The band still has the aura of amateurs, albeit amateurs in the 90’s, where new analog equipment and synthesizers with 600 presets can make anyone sound halfway decent. The oscillators are still there, though they’ve been mostly backgrounded, with Xian taking most of the leads on keyboards. Lerner is a fine drummer, though much more straightforward and traditional than Taylor was, which doesn’t really help matters. It immediately starts off on the wrong foot, a re-recording of “I Have Known Love”, which smooths the song over so much that it winds up nerfing everything that was special about it in the first place. At best, it is a reminder of just how great the original was; at worst, it’s outright bad. The fact that the group saw fit to lead off the album this way says something about what they must’ve thought about the new material. There are two other covers – “You and I” and “Misty Mountain”. The former is alright; it’s a bit smoother, but still chaotic, while the latter at least adds enough new elements to feel different from the original recording.

As for the new tracks, they’re mostly fine if unexciting. “Ancient Path” is probably the best of them; with its droning violin sounds and chaotic electronics it does sound like it’s descended from Contact. But the rest of this sounds mostly like stock music, with the better moments coming off like something you might hear in a Commander Keen game. The upshot is that the album is very listenable; it’s unexciting but there’s not much to dislike, outside of perhaps Simeon’s voice, which is as sleepy and limited as always. The downside is that there’s just nothing to recommend here – if this wasn’t the Silver Apples there would be no reason to ever listen to this album. I like “Hocus Pocus” and I guess “Daisy” is kind of fun in its own way. But it’s not really a patch on the original albums. Danny Taylor is badly missed.

The trio released a second new album in 1998, called Decatur. It is essentially the polar R-612168-1312213372.jpegopposite of Beacon – only one track, a long improvisation that’s heavily experimental and completely amelodic. Kudos to Simeon for releasing this, though I’m not sure why exactly you’d want to listen to it. Recorded in one take, it sounds like the sort of warm-up improv that a lot of bands like to do before kicking off their set list, except it’s extended to three-quarters of an hour. The nicest thing I can say about it is that it’s sort of like Can’s “Augmn”, as performed by a malfunctioning 50-year old IBM mainframe unit. If your favorite Tangerine Dream album is Zeit, you might get some mileage out of it. Other than that, the cover art is good. Though Beacon feels hopelessly mired in the 90’s bargain rack, Decatur does at least have the feel of something that could’ve been recorded back in the hippie days, perhaps as the B-side to an Ash Ra Tempel album. No melody, no rhythm, just inscrutable noise. If that sounds appealing to you, go ahead and get yourself a copy. I’m not sure how I’d grade it myself, but after two listens I’m done.

Meanwhile, the search for Danny Taylor eventually bore fruit, as the man himself called into a New Jersey radio station after hearing “I Have Known Love”, impressed that anyone had remembered his former band. Taylor, like Coxe before him, was also unaware that a Silver Apples resurgence was taking place. The station, knowing that Simeon was looking for him, put the two in touch, and suddenly the Silver Apples reunion was on. As it turns out, Taylor had a dub of the long lost, still-unfinished third Silver Apples album sitting in his attic for the last three decades, which at long last allowed The Garden to come to light.

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The album is sort of an odd duck (and really, what Silver Apples album isn’t), but in my opinion it’s the crown jewel of the band’s 90’s catalogue, if you want to count it as such. The songs are goofier, faster-paced, and more sophisticated (melodically, at least) than they were on the first two albums, with Simeon playing his machine like a real synth in places. It can be fairly entertaining – the take on “Mustang Sally” almost sounds like a parody, as the backing melody chirps and hiccups all over the place. “I Don’t Care What the People Say” and “The Owl” both sound like potential singles, especially given that this was the era of Syd Barrett. Listening to some of this in a vacuum, it almost sounds like they’re trying to invent Zolo about a decade early. Though the band is still a bit rough around the edges, they no longer sound like amateurs; had the album been completed, it might have been better than either of the first two. As it is, Simeon had to fill time by adding some new electronic bits to Danny Taylor’s rehearsal tapes, turning half of this into instrumental jamming. It is actually not bad, particularly the two off-kilter ones at the start (“Tabouli Noodle” and “Cannonball Noodle”), which both groove on catchy bass lines. But it feels like you’re listening to two different albums, and at the end of the day, there’s only four original songs here (five on the recent CD version, which adds “The Lady and the Clown”). Not to take anything away from the rest (though the straight-up banjo cover of “John Hardy” is a little odd), but still. One can only imagine what a finished version would have sounded like.

There is one other 90’s Silver Apples release, an collaborative EP with a band called Spectrum, which I don’t know very much about. Titled A Lake of Teardrops, it is another small piece of fodder for the devoted Apples fan. “Streams of Sorrow” sounds like a Contact outtake, complete with a drum beat that seems to be directly lifted from “A Pox On You”. The rest is mostly a display of vintage electronics (is that a Speak n’ Spell?) with Simeon speaking/half-singing over the top. I am not sure if Danny Taylor was involved in this at all. It is not very substantial but it is somewhat interesting for a listen or two. If nothing else the vintage oscillators are back – Spectrum sounds like a more appropriate backing band than Hawkins and Lerner were. Would have been interesting to hear this over a full LP, but you get what you get.

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