stephin merritt is a songwriter i can always count on. aside from some of the future bible heroes songs, i pretty much think most of what he touches turns to gold. for all his varied projects he usually follows a simple song structure, with the majority of his songs about love. his main band, the magnetic fields, have just released their ninth album.
distortion brings the magnetic fields back to the lo-fi sound of their first few albums, almost like they are trying to relive childhood with all that they know now. much like radiohead with the much more successful in rainbows. not that i am saying that distortionis bad, i’m just getting my problems with it out of the way. the distortion goes beyond the title and haunts the whole album. while i love the fuzzed out indie rock of the charm of the highway strip and holiday, i have gotten used to the more polished sounds the recent albums. so the fuzzy sound and the mixing of the album give it more a b-sides compilation feel. and the flow seems a little wonky, i realize that in today track obsessed society the sound of the “album” may not seem that important, but i am an old fashioned kind of guy. i kind of wonder if if they even listened to it as a whole. they proudly state “no synths” in the booklet, i have to say that i miss them, just a little.
onto the good part. stephin’s songwriting is still clever and his wordplay is still top notch. there are even several songs that don’t seem to be about love, at least not in the obvious sense. “california girls” is about a jealous plot to kill “it” girls, and “the nun’s litany” tells the story of one nun’s ideas of what is more exciting than being a nun. in typical merritt style we also get songs about drinking to forget old loves (“too drunk to dream”) and bi-sexual zombies in haiti (“zombie boy”). the standout tracks for me are “mr. mistletoe”, “please stop dancing”, and “till the bitter end” which are all about lost love or being alone.
distortion is never going to beat get lost for the top magnetic fields album in my heart, i have a feeling it might grow on me.