Silver Apples, Part 3: Clinging to a Dream (2016)

silver-apples

Just as the Silver Apples got things going again, they got derailed. Quite literally in fact. In 1998, the Apples’ tour van got into a massive crash, in which Simeon was pronounced dead on the scene. As it turns out he did not actually die, but instead suffered injuries to his neck and spine which required years of physical therapy. Slowly but surely, Simeon recovered, but the Apples’ suffered another pretty major setback in 2005, when Danny Taylor died of cancer. Perhaps Simeon’s been slowly getting his due, but Taylor unfortunately never did. It really is a shame that he never got sampled the way that say, James Brown’s drummers did – he was equally funky and even more off the hook.

Regardless, Simeon soldiered on, at the usual pace. In 2008 came Gremlins, a 4-song EP which marked the first new Silver Apples music in 10 years. By now the Apples were just Simeon solo, using some combination of his old gizmos and modern drum machines. Actually the combination is quite interesting, with the usual Apples pingo pongo sound, plus electronic noise that skitters all over the place. Some cues from techno here and there – the backing track of “The Gremlins of Hamlet” almost sounds like a Ken Ishii thing, but with Raymond Scott tinkering around over the top. More jamming than actual tunes – “Purple Egg” and “Beethoven Jambalaya” are mostly formless, while “I Don’t Know” is a poetry reading over brooding electronic noise. Interesting, though outside of a brief section of “Purple Egg” there isn’t really anything that sounds like the band’s classic material. Not that there ought to be, of course. Still, like most the stuff they did after the 60’s, it’s more of a curiosity than anything.

160556Which brings us to Clinging to a Dream, a full-length LP released just last year. Credit where it’s due: this has got to be amongst the most unlikely releases of 2016. While it is not that unusual for a short-lived group to suddenly drop an LP after a long break (see also: Comus, My Bloody Valentine, Happy the Man, Gary Wilson, etc.), as far as I know The Silver Apples are the only group to do that particular feat *twice*, as this comes nearly two decades after their previous comeback. The difference between this one and that one is that the spirit of the old band actually seems to show up again; Taylor may be gone and the actual sounds may be a lot different, but this is as charming and outwardly strange as the band’s classic material. Simeon Coxe, now 78 years old, still seems to be stuck in his late-60’s vision of the future, gazing starward in a permanently altered state. If anything, it’s even stranger than the old stuff, full of dizzying, inverted rhythm tracks and distorted sound, abusing everything from vintage oscillators to modern drum machines. The charming and goofy songwriting that marked the debut is still there (“The Edge of Wonder”, “Missing You”), but a lot of this is just full-on weird, even beyond what Contact managed to achieve. For example, “Colors” is somewhat akin to the strangest Malcolm Mooney-era Can stuff, with Coxe reading a poem over a series of burbling and dissonant sounds. On “Susie”, he reads off a list of foods over what sounds like a malfunctioning copy of Commander Keen. Even the more straightforward stuff like “Missing You” pulls off the old Apples trick of using what sounds like a completely detached rhythm track.

There is also some more traditional-sounding technopop on here; both “Fractal Flow” and “Concerto for Monkey and Oscillator” hint at the idea that Coxe has at least *heard* of Kraftwerk in the interim, as they both coast along on relatively straightforward rhythms and hooks. “Fractal Flow” has been around since ’97, first appearing on a rare 7 inch. It is probably the best thing the band did in the 90’s, the one track that really did hearken back to what the band did so well so long ago. As for “Concerto”, it is exactly as the title implies, driven by animal noises and a melody that gets pitched all over the place. In the hands of a more skilled producer it would probably be twice as pristine and half as good. As you might have gathered, this album is sorta all over the place; its pop and experimental sides mesh together about as well as they did in the past, which is to say not very well at all. But that has always been the appeal of this band; for all their wide-ranging influence there really isn’t anyone out there who sounds like them, as Coxe is just that uniquely strange of an individual. When he sings a line like “We don’t have much time left, the dawn is here, we’ve only got a little bit of time”, it comes off less as a rumination of reaching old age and more like he’s waiting for a spaceship to pick him up (related line: “Nothing matters anymore, nothing to do but wait”). As usual Coxe’s vocals are sort of a weak point, though I do find it amusing that he’s finally aged into that old wizard voice he’s been wielding around since his 20’s.

But in the end, what makes Clinging stands out is that it really does add to the Apples’ legacy; it’s very much the album I wished Beacon was, perhaps aided by the fact that there’s no one around for Simeon to bounce ideas off of. After a half-dozen listens, I’m starting to think this is every bit as good as the band’s classic material. So if you’ve enjoyed that stuff, by all means find yourself a copy. It’s not like anyone else will tell you to; the amount of press this thing got was next to nil, and even someone like myself who’d considered himself a fan didn’t even know it existed until a couple months ago. Fifty years later, the Silver Apples are just as unmarketable as they’ve always been

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