Marbles is Robert Schneider of Apples in Stereo's solo project, and Expo marks the first full-length album since Schneider mothballed the name with the formation of the Apples in 1993. The m.o. is very Apples-like, with loads of their trademark catchy melodies, slightly trippy lyrics, swirling guitars, and sonic textures. But instead of the usual '60s psych-pop influences and song structures, ELO seems to be the major influence at work, with tracks like "When You Open" and the pulsating "Magic" sounding like an unlikely lo-fi Jeff Lynne project. The record is filled with vocoders, electronically treated vocals, cheap drum machines, tinny synths, and robotic beats. At its best on songs like "Move On" (wait for the moving guitar/synth duet at the song's climax) and the dreamy "Out of the Zone," the electronics are added somewhat organically and give Schneider's sometimes reedy vocals and simple songs a much-needed boost. A few of the songs don't work quite as well; "Circuit"'s vocoder and the song's nagging melody give the song an overly gimmicky sound, and the record's instrumentals ("Jewel of India," "Hello Sun," and "Blossoms") aren't of much interest. These are small flaws, and the strength of the rest of the record makes up for them.
The record was mixed by Mark Linnett of Beach Boys and SMiLE revisited fame, and he shows his versatility by creating a sound almost directly opposite to the lush SMiLE sound, instead making Expo sound like it was recorded in Schneider's sock drawer. In a good way, though. Like Guided By Voices, Marbles (and the Apples) work better when they sound small and full to bursting, and Expo is no exception to that rule. Apples in Stereo fans will dig this record.
Sony’s triple-disc 2010 set The Music of Dan Fogelberg is a thorough budget-line retrospective of the singer/songwriter’s career. Most of Fogelberg’s hits are bunched on the first disc (and they’re almost all here, outside of some smaller hits like “Lost in the Sun” and “Down the Road”), leaving space on the rest of the compilation for fan favorites and album tracks. While this may not be assembled with the kind of exacting touch that characterizes bigger, more expensive box sets, it offers a generous portion of Fogelberg’s best music at a nice price.