Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Summer Memories

Is what sparked Apple Orchard, if I've understood it correctly. Probably the only band ever to name themselves after a Bouquet song. They've never sounded very summery though, despite living in sunny California. And if so it's bound to be a summer shut in a small bedsit, which is where Ryan and Dale recorded their music. The lo-fi character has always shaped their sound.

But now, when I put on their first longplayer Half-Steps Toward Bright Skies (that should have come out over a year ago if you ask me) it's hardly the same band, or rather it is a band for the first time. Apple Orchard have never been brilliant musicians or recording artists, but it was the little peculiarities that made me love them. There's nothing askew about this album though, and don't get me wrong, this is of course a good thing. And the fact that when Ryan starts singing on opening track "Unfazed" I thought it sounded exactly like Trembling Blue Stars will probably make them proud. Apple Orchard aren't trying to be original, of course they want to sound like their favourite bands - we all do - but this is about Ryan's songs - and not everyone writes them quite like he does.

They've really developed the soundscapes. Just waiting around, trying to get the album released, probably left them plenty of time to work on the finish, the mixing and the mastering. It definitely sounds like a record that's been fussed over at least. Some of these songs have appeared elsewhere before, in other guises. I gave up trying to track down all the songs that have, because of the wealth of Apple Orchard material, but at least I think I've heard "Unfazed", "I Can't Feel Sorry" and "The Saddest, Perfect Ending" before. And of course "Midnight Stars and Kisses" is a re-recording of the b-side from their first single - the brilliant (and still available) "A Hiding Smile".

The new sound is also an effect of more prominent keyboards on most songs, which give the whole record a languid, warm feel not dissimilar to that on California Snow Story's record from last year. And the odd guitar jangle here and there is always appreciated, especially now that you can actually hear that Ryan owns a Rickenbacker! These new horizons of course leave me wanting to hear more of those old songs in high fidelity... But the fact that the album is made up mostly of new songs is a sign of integrity more than anything. Apple Orchard had some great upbeat tunes, like my old favourites "Don't Pretend" and "Bed & Breakfast"! Here, mid-tempo is the most we're treated to and my favourite on the record is "Dreaming (As the Summer Fades)". You'll find that below.

And naturally I should say that you can buy the album from Haymarket Recordings, their new self-run label and the reason for the record's long delay. Now maybe that compilation they had planned is up next?

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