To fans and admirers of a cult band like Apples in Stereo, the arrival of a best-of set like #1 Hits Explosion (Yep Roc) is both superfluous and a reason to rejoice. It's the former because most fans'll already have this stuff from their original LP and EP releases, the latter because every new AiS release opens up the possibility that this great pop-rock band will finally break big in the public consciousness.
This sixteen track set also does us the favor of rescuing two cuts from the band's one dubious release, the Her Wallpaper Reverie EP: the Magical Mystery Touristy "Strawberry Fire" and straightly poppish "Ruby." These two tracks can arguably be held up as reflecting band meister Robert Schneider's prime sonic tactics: the slightly sideways psychedelic glance and the more straightforward Brian Wilson-esque pop thrust.
If #1 Hits none too surprisingly favors the latter in its selection, there are plenty of sweetly weird moments ("Fire," "Tidal Wave," former Apples drummer Hilarie Sidney's "Winter Must Be Cold") to satisfy most lovers of the fun trick noisemaker approach.
To someone who has played most of his AiS CDs to the point of obsessive compulsive familiarity, there's always something a little disorienting about collections like this. Listening to a cut like "Same Old Drag" (from New Magnetic Wonder), for instance, I can't help mentally starting up the short follow-up cut, "Joanie Don't U Worry," because that's the way it went on the original album.
It's one thing to have a Schneider track like "Sun Is Out" catch you off guard in a Dodge commercial ("Gee, I hope the guys're making good money off this," you think). It's something else when the cuts are removed from their original context and placed out of chronology. The latter prevents newcomers from getting a sense of the group's fifteen-year tone soul evolution — which is a historical shame.
Still, occasionally, the removal from the original source can help you hear a song in a new way. I wasn't an admirer of "Signal in the Sky," the band's kid-friendly ode to the Powerpuff Girls, when it first appeared on the Let's Go! EP. Hearing it on this set, however, the track's subtly swirling background sonics place it more firmly within the group's discography. Too, listening to Schneider do the white boy soul thing on "The Bird That You Can't See" reminds me that the guy's Beach Boys passion didn't just extend to Brian Wilson SMILE-ing ; it also encompasses brother Carl's love of R-&-B.
And as an introduction to the band's range of addictive pop sounds, #1 Hits does its job beautifully. Like most fans, I'd quibble about some the set's exclusions (I miss "I Can't Believe," "Rainfall" and the very 70's extended "Beautiful Machine" tracks, which remind me of both the Beatles' "She's So Heavy" and an ELO album cut). But that just means that there's plenty more good stuff for the newcomer to discover once they venture past this anthology (I'd recommend starting with the most recent album-as-album, New Magnetic Wonder).
Hardcore fans will have to decide for themselves whether they need this set or not. Ah, who's kidding who? If you're a disc or vinyl-centered enthusiast, you'll want a copy of this puppy, too. And consider yourself happy to have it.