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Ape School

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Ape School’s Michael Johnson has a solid indie rock résumé. He was part of the SubPop group Holopaw, played with the Lilys, Kurt Vile, and Human Television, and along the way hooked up with Daedelus, appearing on the stand-out track “Make it So” on his 2008 album Love to Make Music To. This is Johnson’s second mostly solo album; it was barely noticed, and his first under the name Ape School. Johnson wraps his catchy songs in a hazy, insulated sound that references neo-psych heroes Mercury Rev and the Flaming Lips, ropes in elements of hip-hop (in the rhythms), shoegaze (the drifting textures are reminiscent at times of the Lilys best work), and oddly enough, a shoestring budget version of stadium dreamers like Coldplay or Keane. The lyrics and vocals don’t reach for the back row of the arena,
but the epic sweep and cinematic sound of songs like “My Intention” or “Deathstomp” work to bring the album a larger scope than the average “one dude on a studio album” usually has. If this comparison scares you off, please note that the everyman vocals and carefully crafted arrangements keep the album from becoming an overblown mess. The general sharpness of the hooks (especially in the killer one-two punch of “Wail to God” and “That’s Okay” that kicks off the album), the powerful groove of songs like “Be an Encore,” and the tender, freaky balladry of “Did What I Did” and “The Underground” make the album well worth investigating for anyone who likes their pop made with a blissfully weird sonic nventiveness.

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