When Silver Apples first appeared in 1967 it’s fair to say that their sound was like almost nothing else in existence. Combining the rudimentary synth oscillations of The Simeon with the inventive drumming of Dan Taylor they somehow anticipated Krautrock, laid the groundwork for modern electronic music and still managed to sound like a hippy commune had made its way into space.
Their first two albums, Silver Apples (1968) and Contact (1969), remain some of the most inventive and influential albums of all time, even though by today’s standards they might well sound a little dated. It’s quite something then that a band approaching its 50th year and its key figure near his 80th is still releasing music at all.
It would be unreasonable to expect new ground to be broken at this point, yet it wouldn’t be entirely surprising. However, part of what made Silver Apples such an unpredictable prospect is now missing. With Dan Taylor’s passing in 2005, Silver Apples is now essentially a solo project for Simeon and whilst he’s more than capable of exploring strange and unusual vistas on his own, Taylor’s drumming proves to be an irreplaceable part of their sound, which is presumably why Simeon didn’t replace him with a session player or an able tubthumper for these sessions.
The early parts of the Clinging To A Dream are actually fairly straightforward and unchallenging. The Edge Of Wonder takes aspects of star-gazing folk and marries them to a pop sensibility. It seems a lot more organic than might be expected from a band that pretty much invented the human/machine hybrid concept. It’s like taking a stroll through the countryside with a well-intentioned hippy as they point out meandering streams and chat about Neptune’s metronome. Missin’ You continues down a similar path, its dainty motifs are pleasant enough, but for just a second it feels as if Silver Apples have settled for the easy route.
Of course it’s not long before all that changes and things start to get a bit more experimental. Colors taps into the well that produced The Doors’ Horse Latitudes or much of the Velvets early work and its skronking electronic noises and sprawling spoken word are quite unsettling. Nothing Matters continues in a similar vein and channels the weird discord of The Residents. All of which is faintly unsettling, but nothing in comparison to the low-key whispered atmospherics of The Mist. Within the space of three songs, Simeon has moved from pop tones to enveloping and disturbing atmospherics; John Carpenter would almost certainly be proud of The Mist.
Returning to the poppier aspects of Silver Apples is Susie, but it seems Simeon has dragged some of those horror undertones with him as he emerges from The Mist. Lyrically it’s one of the strangest songs of the year in that it’s a comprehensive appraisal of what Susie has in her kitchen cupboards and fridge. You’ll definitely never go hungry at Susie’s, but there’s something in the main riff of this song that suggests she might not wash her hands before preparing food.
Fractal Flow first made an appearance in 1996, but 10 years later still remains a towering example of synth-pop elegance. After this brief return to wonky pop, Silver Apples drift off in more abstract directions for the rest of the album. Appropriately enough, this process begins with Drifting, a song that does exactly as its title suggests and ambles along delicately without causing too much of a fuss. Charred Fragments is far more unusual and sounds like the soundtrack to Inner Space might have had Dennis Quaid been a puppet, and his tiny shrunken vessel were Stingray. Concerto For Monkey And Oscillat sounds exactly as you would expect, like a rave up in a monkey house where and argument over the nuts has got out of hand. All of which makes the stroll through The Rain something of a damp squib as the album nears its end.
Yet while there may be a few wrong turns on Clinging To A Dream, Simeon is still creating vibrant, challenging and exciting music. Rather than clinging to a dream, he is, in fact, keeping his very much alive.