It’s been a few years since we last saw new material from the Massachusetts trio, otherwise known by the Greco-bohemian name, Apollo Sunshine. Recorded in a certain famous haunted studio up in the Catskill Mountains of New York (right across from Uncle Sam’s place), it just so happens that Apollo Sunshine had found the same rooms that inspired Ratatat’s latest record. After listening to both records several times now, it sounds as if they all found the same box of strings, but for Sam Cohen, Jesse Gallagher, and Jeremy Black those strings have taken their music in a new experimental direction. Such a direction is a welcome growth for a band that, on previous albums, had mostly stuck to 60’s pop-psych-rock for inspiration.
Odd whimsical moments have always been apart of Apollo Sunshine’s sound. “Katonah”, the title track from their debut album, is a great example of this as the band breaks into an instrumental trip-hop bass explosion. Their self-titled record saw even more branching out and growth while still sticking with great harmonies and solid song writing that remains fluid, such as the opening track from that record, “Flip”. Three years after that release, however, we hear the same voices, but this time, new instruments have entered the spectrum giving these musicians some fun toys which aide in creating a great new record.
The most obvious driving force on Shall Noise Upon would have to be the use of the Autoharp. The opener “Breeze” jumps right into it using the 36-stringed Zither to create an effect that is, well… breezy. Gallagher and Cohen’s harmonies are soft and melt right into the music as a guitar begins to subtly pick away and a dream-like state is created. The sound over all is crisper and more detailed, adding whispering notes here and there from different percussion and strings. This attention to detail carries on from the softer songs right into the heavier tracks such as, “666: The Coming of the New World Government”. Cohen’s voice moves from rock to country as his live twang is much more noticeable on this track. Gallagher’s own strong vocals are introduced on “Brotherhood of Death” as he yells a bluegrass-driven, hard rock sermon into a bullet mic. By this point, the psychedelics of the band have been kicked into overdrive, begging the question, “What all happened in that haunted building back in 2007?”
Brilliant instrumentals, such as the strawberry fields-esque “Happiness” see the guys breaking out the woodwind collection, and is just one of the examples of what happens when they leave out the vocals and just play. So what happens when all the old instruments are ditched for an echoing and creepy orchestra? A little philosophical outlook on life and death called, “We Are Born When We Die.”
The record changes direction once again on a track George Clinton would have been proud to write, called “The Funky Chamberlain (Who Begot Who).” This record truly is out there and knows no limits, musically reaching from all styles. The thought provoking “Money” is a simple folk tune that begs to ask, “What if money didn’t matter?” Every verse answers this question in the typical Utopian manner that we all wish was reality.
“Honestly” takes the record for a Caribbean/ Latin spin that brings in more percussion, horns, and even some Spanish from the boys. The album closes with a soft, traditional country ballad, and the space-jazz of “Light of The World” that lingers in and out, finishing with a not so secret track. What’s the secret? A recording telling us we need some “brainwashing and heartwashing” to live productive lives.
Apollo Sunshine could not have produced such a musically interesting record without some notable help from the likes of Drug Rug, Eden, Viva Viva, and White Flight. It’s an amazing but quick set of tracks that leave the listener in anticipation as many of the short interludes could have been developed more, but maybe that’s the point. This record sees the band furthering their creative limits, leaving us wondering where they will go next.