Say what you want about the digital age, MP3s have brought us a lot to be thankful for. Portability, convenience, and affordability are all huge pros. They’ve revolutionised the concept of the single, and EPs are far more plausible now that you’re able to quickly and easily attach each track to a playlist rather than carry around an album with three or four songs on it in a CD wallet; not to mention the redundancy they’ve made of greatest hits albums, or albums in which you enjoy a couple tracks but could repudiate the rest. It is this fact that should have Ape School hopeful. The moments of greatness they find themselves in on tracks like “Wail to God” or “My Intention” should be recognized, downloaded and added to your latest indie rock aggregation. The rest, albeit awfully ambitious, are pretty much forgettable.
Now, don’t misunderstand. No matter how many options MP3s have brought us, nothing’s better than a finely constructed album where the artist really let their craft shine; when each song congeals into something bigger, something like a Physical Graffiti, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, or Kid A — that’s what music is ultimately all about. And Michael Johnson, the man behind Ape School, gives it a valiant attempt. But in the end, you’re left with little emotional resonance.
Imagine Ape School as a series of moments. Their entire sound genuflects a stereotypical ’60s-’70s British pop sound, but more specifically, several influential modern bands. “Wail to God” opens the album heroically, their Wolf Parade moment. You can almost imagine Spencer Krug barking the lyrics confidently as the melody, and subsequent rhythm explosions rise from the electronic noise and fuzz for a genuinely exciting experience. “My Intention”, a few tracks later, is their Of Montreal (minus any atonal freak-outs) moment. Clever drum loops set up a syncopated falsetto chorus as neat guitars high above the fray sing along merrily. The “In Time You Are” opener is a dead ringer for an old Animal Collective song, circa the Feels era. Each of these songs work very well on their own, but none of them excite you enough for more Ape School, only for more of the bands they seem to parody.
The main thing to take away from Ape School shouldn’t be their inability to patch together a masterpiece of a record, but of their potential to be that group in the future. And there’s nothing really wrong with the album; it’s just, for the most part, fairly unmoving. Not the worst thing you could listen to, but also certainly not the best.