Like the other members of the Elephant 6 collective, which include Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control, the Apples in Stereo alternate tuneful gems that evoke the psychedelic pop of 1966-68 and instrumental interludes that are altogether too faithful to the spirit of that era's druggy indulgences. On the quintet's "Her Wallpaper Reverie," the balance shifts -- or drifts -- toward indulgence. There are 15 tracks on the disc, but (as the 27:08 running time suggests) most are fragmentary.
Some of these compositions are actual songs, notably "Questions and Answers," the only one written (and sung) by drummer Hilarie Sidney. Of singer-guitarist Robert Schneider's contributions, several also approach songhood, although "Strawberryfire" bears rather too close a resemblance to a better-known acid-pop tune with the word "strawberry" in its title. As for the instrumentals, such titles as "Drifting Patterns" provide an adequate description of what they're like: more wallpaper than reverie.
"We'll play/ Anything that you want," promises Beulah songwriter Miles Kurosky in the last song on the band's "When Your Heartstrings Break," but by then you know he doesn't mean it. Although Kurosky and his cohorts (four full-time members and 18 session players) make very ingratiating music, they're not about to compromise their singular pop vision to please everybody. Founders Kurosky and Bill Swan (the duo that made the first Beulah album) share a taste for the Beatles, but "Heartstrings" suggests a post-punk version of the Beach Boys during that period when Brian Wilson barricaded himself in the studio.
The San Francisco quintet certainly didn't have the budget that went into the aborted "Smile," but it does show a similar ambition. This album was mostly self-recorded at the band's practice space, yet its elaborate sound incorporates horns, strings and even tabla into songs either galloping ("Score From Augusta") or lilting ("Calm Go the Wild Seas"). If Kurosky's film-inspired lyrics are as knotty as the arrangements, the melodies are so buoyant that you'll probably want anything they play.
Both appearing Friday at the Black Cat with the Long Goodbye. To hear a free Sound Bite from the Apples in Stereos, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8101. For a free Sound Bite from Beulah, press 8102. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)