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Reviews

The Magnetic Fields – Realism

May 20, 2010
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Realism

After 2008's quasi-abrasive Distortions, the Magnetic Fields' mastermind Stephen Merritt returns to a familiar softness with Realism. The album is dense with folky instrumentation, cutesy overdubs, and bubbly melodies tugged from the pages of a Sunday school songbook. While many of Realism's tracks could easily be plucked from previous Fields albums, the childish imagery infused throughout the disc saves Merritt from the accusation of self-plagiarizing; how can one be expected to display musically maturity when writing songs like "The Doll's Tea Party" and "Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree"



Unfortunately, this overt adolescence often causes Merritt's persistent lyrical weaknesses to surface. The man can't seem to avoid the sappy lyrics and predictable rhymes which made 1999's 69 Love Songs unbearable in one sitting. Yet there are gems to be found by digging through Realism. Merritt's deep voice leads a joyous choir on the Sufjan Stevens-meets-Morrissey opener "You Must Be Out Of Your Mind", possibly the catchiest Magnetic Fields song in a decade. Later, the twee-pop waltz "Seduced And Abandoned" comes off like an Irish drinking song performed by a tipsy Belle And Sebastian. With the Magnetic Fields, Merritt tows the line between solo artist and band. Others with similar projects–Phil Elvrum with the Microphones, Chad Matheny with Emperor X–use their format to expand into brave territories. Merritt's singularity just feels awkward, and Realism is another album in a catalog more concerned with quantity than quality.

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Written by Ryan Wasoba