Few figures in the independent music scene are as infuriating as Robert Schneider. On the one hand, the man is clearly a bit of a musical genius: If the production credit on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea wasn’t enough to solidify that, then creating a whole new musical scale ought to do it (more on that later). But despite his obvious gifts, a truly great, defining album has eluded Schneider and the Apples in Stereo. New Magnetic Wonder isn’t without its charms, but for someone as creatively inclined and musically ambitious as Schneider is, it’s painfully one-dimensional.
I may never understand why Schneider would fetishize his band’s brand of power pop cum bubblegum psychedelia. Despite all the bells and whistles he adds to his compositions (processor-busting numbers of instrumentation tracks, et cetera), it’s clear he’s a big fish deliberately swimming in a small pool. So although there may not be a bad track among the bubbly, vocoder-happy pop songs comprising much of New Magnetic Wonder (a number of them are actually very good), he’s still wallowing in the shallow end of his potential. What makes it all the more frustrating is that Schneider rubs your face in his wasted genius in small bursts. Take, for example, the aforementioned non-Pythagorean music scale he created. I won’t pretend to understand the thought process behind such an undertaking or the potential it has for musical theory. But I do know that it’s absolutely asinine to carve out a piece of uncharted musical territory and then only use it on two “transition tracks” and the opening riff of one song-scantly more than a minute of the album.
You could throw Schneider a bone here: It’s hard to fathom how the strange non-Pythagorean compositions on the album could be fleshed out into anything resembling a coherent song, and it may just be a battle he chose to wage another day. But there’s no letting Schneider off the hook for “Beautiful Machine Parts 3-4.” Lush, densely layered and anthemic, the song is unlike anything else on New Magnetic Wonder. Sitting through an album of catchy but ultimately vapid pop songs isn’t made any more satisfying when there’s a staggering track near the end. New Magnetic Wonder may be a good album, but it’s hugely disappointing.