The first thing you might notice about Boston indie-pop outfit Apollo Sunshine’s new album, Shall Noise Upon, is the intricately detailed, mostly black & white, totally psychedelic cover. The second thing is that, upon putting the CD into iTunes, that the genre is listed as “Unclassifiable.” And the third is that the album title, promising a musical cornucopia for the listener, is an anagram for the band’s name. All three of these tidbits make sense; Apollo Sunshine’s fourth full-length album is a nifty blast of retro-rock sound, leaping from noise to noise with gleeful ease, and an absolute joy for anybody who still loves music informed by the `60s and `70s.
Opener “Breeze” is an immediate rush of trippy rock, feedback dissolving into gentle harp-strumming and sweet harmonies. It’s a harbinger of what the album’s going to sound like: no instrumentation, no studio trick, and no hallmark of acid rock will be left behind. The next song, “Singing To The Earth (To Thank Her For You)” completely bears that out, from the groovy title, man, to the strummed acoustic and electric piano weaved deftly into the mix, buoyed by more glorious harmonies and a ringing guitar solo. Completing the opening psychedelic trifecta is “666: The Coming of the New World Government,” a churning rocker that sounds like it sprang from the loins of The Beatles’ famous b-side “Rain.” With vocals obviously influenced by the Fab Four and dreamy lyrics about “a need to change,” “666″ thrums with fuzzed-out power, a slapping drum beat keeping everything together, tape loops squealing throughout. The track almost feels like it is moving, packed with noise and managing to be both raw and elaborate at the same time.
However, lest you think the album is just The Dukes of Stratosphear Redux, Shall Noise Upon shows the band fully capable of branching out into all different forms of retro music, all handled deftly by the multi-talented musicians and a bevy of guests. Two different instrumentals, “Happiness” (an army of flutes and strings meshing into a soaring crescendo) and “Green Green Lawns of Outer Space” (an almost Hawaiian guitar solo bouncing off of eerie echoes) show the group capable of keeping listeners arrested without words. “Brotherhood of Death” is a vicious rocker that would’ve sounded great in Easy Rider, harmonica howling like a siren and the track stampeding as hard as anything The Black Keys ever did. The surprising acoustic pastoral folk song “Money” is a true throwback to the Summer of Love era, a paean to a life without material possessions and filthy lucre, with a funky jaw harp adding a charming touch to the proceedings. “Honestly” grooves with a shimmering Brazilian groove, a gentle flute solo twining around Spanish vocals, clopping percussion, and triumphantly blaring trumpets. And “Fog and Shadow” veers sharply into old-fashioned Nashville country, like The Carter Family after taking some LSD, with beautiful male and female vocals singing about “see(ing) what is real” (definitely not your standard country fare) and both heartbreaking violins and a full-on slide guitar solo taking things to a weary close.
In a droll nod to both the past and the present, Shall Noise Away will be released on vinyl and mp3 simultaneously before its CD release. This makes sense, in a way – the album would sound great on a turntable, and yet has a beefed-up sound that could’ve only been created with today’s modern production. Apollo Sunshine has very carefully mined their favorite old records, and created some golden nuggets of their own.