New Magnetic Wonder, the Apples in Stereo's return after a five-year hiatus, is one of their best records in a career made up of consistently fine recordings. Anyone expecting a return to the experimental, lo-fi wizardry of their early albums may feel let down by New Magnetic Wonder, but on the other hand, anyone fearing a return to the bland stripped-down and noisy sound of Velocity of Sound need not worry. What they have delivered instead is a crisply recorded set of bouncing rockers, sweetly strummed ballads, and vaguely trippy mid-tempo tracks that are full of hooks, melodies, and goofy fun. Over a base of solidly rocking bass, guitar, and drums (as well as Robert Schneider's reliably chirpy vocals), the band and their cohorts (the credits read like an E6 who's who, including Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, Bill Doss and W. Cullen Hart of the Olivia Tremor Control, and John Fernandes, who has played clarinet with just about all the E6 bands) create a rich soundscape of Mellotron, backing vocals, percussion, and vintage keyboards that envelops the record in a warm and lush haze at times and fills it with sunshine at others. Even more than previous Apples releases, it's a record that won't win any points for being profound or meaningful. Tracks like "Can You Feel It?" or "Energy" are breezy to the point of invisible, but if they don't get you singing along like a fool right away, you've probably come to the wrong party and should go find a Bright Eyes record instead. The more sedate tunes that dominate the second half of the record, like the yearning and psychedelic "Open Eyes" or the melancholy "Radiation," give the album some balance (and in the Mellotron-soaked epic "Beautiful Machine, Pts. 3-4," one of the record's finest moments), but it's the charming fluff like "Same Old Drag" and "Play Tough" that wins the day in the end. The Apples' successful return to the indie scene should be hailed with a hearty embrace (and a tear for the departure of drummer Hilarie Sidney, whose two contributions to the record, "Sundial Song" and "Sunday Sounds," are quite nice) for anyone who likes their pop silly but intelligently played and arranged. Welcome back, Apples!
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra