The Apples In Stereo took a five-year break after their 2002 album Velocity Of Sound, which was probably for the best, since that last record—with its excessive distortion and leeched-dry melodies—sounded like the work of a band ready to tear its sound apart out of sheer frustration. The Apples come at New Magnetic Wonder brimming with energy and ideas, so much so that the album sometimes feels too exuberant. The first song, "Can You Feel It?" channels the massive disco-rock sound of E.L.O. and dozens of contemporary J-pop bands, and sounds a little busy and self-conscious, what with the chorus of background vocalists shouting "Turn up the stereo!" But "Can You Feel It?" also sets the tone for New Magnetic Wonder, which keeps some of Velocity Of Sound's noisiness while restoring the thick hooks and sugary sweetness that made the band a cult favorite.
If there's any doubt that frontman Robert Schneider intends this album to be The Apples In Stereo's defining statement, that doubt gets dispelled by the short instrumentals that pop up after every few songs, and pad New Magnetic Wonder's length to almost an hour. The snippets link a set of songs that run the gamut from guitar-driven anglophilic dance music to hazy soft rock, and they're also samples of ideas Schneider loved too much to discard, but not enough to complete. At times, New Magnetic Wonder resembles a vintage Guided By Voices album, where everything gets thrown in, either to dazzle listeners with the band's prolificacy, or to distract them from the unevenness. The Apples knock out their share of duds on New Magnetic Wonder, but the album as a whole hangs together with the Tin Pan Alley classicism and epic swoop of its most ambitious song, the nearly eight-minute, four-part "Beautiful Machine." Even at its clunkiest, the album sparks.