Apollo Sunshine has always resisted easy definition, offering a peripatetic and hyperactive approach between frenetic jamming, gentle acoustic vocals harmonies and donning tropicalia masks or funk costumes. Shall Noise Upon both suffers and thrives from the attention-deficient stylistic approach yet culminates in Apollo Sunshine’s most mature album to date.
Although not entirely unexpected, it's welcome to see Apollo Sunshine hone its considerable talent into an album that accurately distills its abilities. Early in its career, the Berklee-educated band's marquee live setpieces included synced strobelight bling, its more exhilarating songs toeing the entertaining, erratic, netherworld between hard-edged jam and purposeful, slightly contrived genre shifting. With Shall Noise Upon, Apollo Sunshine delivers an album of unexpectedly complex baroque harmonies (all the more noteworthy given their collectively limited -- touchingly so -- vocal ranges) and admirable, welcome restraint. Regular listeners will wonder where the psychedelic, head-crunching instrumentals have gone, but repeat listens reveal uncommon melodic complexity and stirring harmonic depth.
The complex ethereal pop of album openers "Breeze" and “Singing to the Earth (To Thank Her for You)” merges lush soundscapes with Animal Collective-esque experimentation. This talented trio of multi-instrumentalists is on full display, with glistening autoharp and silken pedal-steel combining in a soaring, romantic ode to natural beauty and the feeling it foments. But it’s never sappy. Lyrics offer simple phrases about weighty topics, and anyway, Apollo Sunshine has always been more about a playful, deceptively complex mood than words. The band’s delicious psychedelic pop never tires, especially on the stand-out “The Mermain Angeline,” one of the year’s most enjoyable tracks. And as with “Bed” on its 2006 self-titled album, a gentle, fingerpicked three-part harmony ballad here called “Money” tackles a cumbersome, universal topic with appropriate levity and simplicity.
Shall Noise Upon shows more evidence than ever before that the band is capable of a cohesive album, but its chops still far outpace its maturity level; the sense remains of a band either heavily over-medicated or under-medicated on ADD drugs remains. The tiresome urge to flit about in other genres lacks the authenticity and sincerity of its own signature sound. The space-funk of “The Funky Chamberlain” carries on the noxious tradition of dopey jamband funk, the salsa horn intro to “Honestly” more a distracting composition exercise than constructive bookend, and the distorted megaphone “ranting” on “Brotherhood of Death” feels like Moistboyz warmed over.
But the growth on display here outweighs the band’s now reliable -- and easily addressable -- shortcomings. Apollo Sunshine’s maturation from skilled high-volume freakers to more plaintive psychedelic poppers is under way, and if the progress on Shall Noise Upon can be maintained, the result is sure to be nothing less than stunning.
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