(Planet of Sound is a bi-weekly speculative fiction music feature)
You don’t always have to go for the masterpiece.
Not every album has to be an opus. Not every track has to command the undivided attention of the room the moment it bursts out of the speakers. There’s something to be said for the small-scale success, the perfect execution of something more subtle. That’s something indie-pop innovators The Apples in Stereo and frontman Robert Schneider have always understood, and knowledge they put to good use even in the middle of a sci-fi-themed, not-quite-concept album entitled Travellers in Space and Time.
The Apples are best known for sunny, 60s-inflected songs such as those that composed their 1995 debut, Fun Trick Noisemaker — they were, in fact, one of the bands that brought the Beach Boys influence to the fore in the indie-pop scene, where it remains to this day. Travellers is a decade’s worth of departure — “like early-seventies R&B played through a UFO,” in Schneider’s words. What Travellers’ synthy space-disco has in common with the rest of the Apples’ oeuvre is the band’s ear for surreally catchy hooks, and Schneider’s light, airy voice. The pure bubblegum of the hooks and the slightness of the voice make it easy to take the Apples less than seriously… but they make it hard to get the songs out of your head, too.
That voice is particularly suited to “Floating in Space,” a relatively restrained track which initially seems, compared to manic, high-energy hookfests like “Dream about the Future” and “Hey Elevator,” like an opportunity to catch your breath — a pause in the tracklist, not a highlight. But over the course of my listening, I’ve found that it might be my favorite, a shimmering, weightless bubble to float along with in a headphone cocoon.
Look out and there’s no atmosphere
No sign of life
it’s only us here
we float along no direction
And okay, I’m going to try to be casual about dropping this paragraph in, but there’s a scene in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, the most-reviewed Harry Potter fanfiction on the internet, where the re-invented Professor Quirrell shows rationalist Harry a magical vision of the galaxy, as seen from its center. Space, from space. It’s Harry’s happy place, and it helps center him, too. On a lesser scale, that’s what this song offers: outer space envisioned in its emptiness, not its majesty — not as overwhelming, but as a place to escape from an overwhelming world. It’s like a fantasy I can recall having as an elementary schooler, imagining myself drifting through the stars in a “space capsule” — a spacecraft with the approximate size and contents of my own bedroom. Calming, but exciting at the same time.
But like all fantasies — or magical visions — the song must end. In just two and a half minutes, the bubble pops, and we’re left with a choice:
Back to Earth, or spin that track again?
Joshua Starr is a fan of speculative fiction in all media. ALL MEDIA.