On Tone Soul Evolution (Spinart), the new album from the Apples in Stereo, there are none of the trademark quirks of the Elephant 6 underground pop collective: no stylistic dabbling, no sketchy lo-fi soundscapes, and instead of whirring, squeaking synths, the vocal melodies are reinforced by tasteful horns. But if this reveals the Apples to be a little less adventurous than their sister bands, the Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel, when it comes to making classic pop they’re clearly the kings of that molehill. As on the Apples’ twitchy, hooky 1995 debut, Fun Trick Noisemaker, bandleader Robert Schneider shows he can absorb the influence of icons like the Kinks, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, the Monkees, and even twisted contemporary pop whiz Scott Miller (Game Theory, Loud Family) without spitting it back out verbatim. The band’s steady touring has reportedly contributed to an impressively tight live presentation. Headliners Helium are touring behind their strangest album, The Magic City (Matador), which sullies some of leader Mary Timony’s strongest melodies and guitar playing with a hodgepodge of confusing styles, from cheesy new wave to half-baked prog rock. To make matters worse, Timony’s lyrics are strewn with sober references to dragons, witches, and rainbows. The bill is rounded out by Purple Ivy Shadows and Boston’s Syrup USA (see Spot Check), who not only sound like Helium but also share with them a unicorn fetish. Friday, 10 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 773-525-6620. Peter Margasak

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Richard Peterson.