"Rarities and B-Sides" sets can be risky propositions: there's often a good reason, after all, why these tracks weren't included in the artist's A-Side repertoire. And when the artist shows a tendency for inserting odd little proto-psychedelic instrumentals into the body of their official releases – much as Apples in Stereo mastermind Robert Schneider has done in several of his group's releases – even a hardcore fan might pause when presented with said artist's newest odds 'n' sods disc.
Thankfully, with the Apples' new Yep Roc release, Electronic Projects for Musicians, the experimental noodling is kept to a minimum. Recorded from 1995 – 2006 (when sometime lead singer/full-time drummer Hilarie Sidney was still a part of the band), the disc primarily consists of tracks originally featured in out-of-print compilations or as bonus cuts on Japanese releases. Though there are a few fluff pieces (e.g., a melodic "thank you" that was originally appended to the Japanese edition of Fun Trick Noisemaker and a slight theme song that was recorded for the band's website), the bulk of the material here is the type of solidly trippy power pop Apples heads look for.
Among these, let's single out optimistic album opener "Shine (In Your Mind)," with its propulsive beat, hooky bells, and sweet Schneider vocals; "Onto Something," a nifty little guitar driven bit of alt-pop with an engagingly low-fi sound; "Man You Gotta Get Up," an empathetic elegy to a slow runner in the rat race with a cool chilly keyboard hook; "On Your Own," which was happily rescued from an unnamed out-of-print former label anthology; and "So Far Away," an ultra-druggy mantra that sounds like it could've come off of Chris Bell's I Am the Cosmos. And though a part of me wishes I didn't have to, I also have to note Projects' inclusion of "Stephen Stephen," a tunefully trivial paean to Comedy Central's faux pundit, which lauds the "handsome man" for taking on bears, the press, and the Decemberists with "their green screen contests." Pretty lightweight, but damned if I can't get that song's chorus out of my head.
As a collection of AiS tracks, Electronic Projects for Musicians isn't as cohesive as the group's last two full band projects (the garagey Velocity of Sound and more opulent New Magnetic Wonder). A couple of the slower numbers ("The Oasis," for instance) just sit there. But as a cobbled-together set of onetime orphans, it definitely does the trick. Any fans out there who've been holding back on buying this ultimately engaging collection are hereby advised to get themselves a copy – unless you're the type of anal retentive moneybags who already owns both the domestic and Japanese versions of the band's catalog. In which case, you've probably gotta decide just how much you need that silly little Stephen Colbert ditty.