Northern Indiana (depending upon whom you talk to) is either a booming hotbed of just-under-the-surface musical talent or a wasteland punctuated by the occasional oasis of a worthwhile artist. I’d like to think the reality veers closer to the former. After all, it really comes down to what you’re looking for and how hard you’re looking.
Go to your local record store. Please do. You’ll find no shortage of locally released material in the bins. Quite a bit of it is worthwhile, and some of it even stands up to the stuff you find in the rest of the store. And, while you’re at it, consider that the vast majority of these folks have to slog through their day jobs, feed their families and do all manner of “real life” stuff before they get the opportunity to toil away at their art.
A long-winded intro to Andrew Apple’s debut, sure, but albums such as this deserve a bit of context. Now, I know next to nothing about Mr. Apple aside from the fact that he does indeed have a day job. And, you would find his album just in front of Fiona Apple’s. Thankfully, Andrew’s record is titled Songs from the War, not some paragraph-length moniker you’d expect to see from that other Apple. Such straightforwardness extends to Mr. Apple’s material which lives comfortably within the singer-songwriter realm and gets its point across with a minimum of fuss. From the reverb-drenched “I Will Love You” to the propulsive opener, “Army of One,” to the bleeding stoicism of “The Leathermen,” Songs from the War is filled with acoustic guitar-fueled folk-rock nuggets that stoke nostalgia for the early/mid-80s while still remaining fresh in their own right. Apple’s vocals recall those of Mike Mills (REM bassist/occasional vocalist): clean and sonorous, without a whit of pretension.
Bolstered by an elegiac piano and synthetic strings, the dirging “Oaklandia” paints a grim picture of desolation and unending struggle. “And in Oaklandia every day is war/ And in Oaklandia everyone is poor,” sings Apple over pealing bells. There’s also a hint of Neutral Milk Hotel in the spirit of the songs, if not necessarily in the substance. The closer, “Song for Julia,” conveys a psychedelic sensibility (“spaghetti hair,” “candy smiles”) inside its deceptively simple instrumentation. It’s the kind of tune that makes you appreciate local artists who are creating art for art’s sake.
Folks such as Andrew Apple are creating something that wasn’t there before. That’s a triumph in its own right.
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