News, Record Reviews

Magnetic Fields: Realism

Colm McAuliffe :: Wednesday, January 27th, 2010 12:00 pm

Stephen Merritt has crafted a musical career under his Magnetic Fields moniker almost entirely bound by strictures - every song on 2004’s I begun with the letter ‘i’ while 2008’s stellar Distortion contained 13 pop cuts, drenched in distortion. While this often makes for conceptually brilliant listening, the ease with which Merritt flits from idea to idea can often leave the listener cold as he only ever appears to engage with sounds on a purely superficial level.

Realism is seen as the sister album to the preceding Distortion; the touchstones for the latter were Psychocandy-era Jesus & Mary Chain, his latest release is a homage to 60s and 70s folk. The liner notes defiantly state ‘no synths’ as banjos, flugelhorns, accordions and something called a cuatro provide the musical backing to Merritt’s tales of winsome woe.

The group vocals on “We Are Having A Hootenanny” recall Steeleye Span as the band never stray far from the folk template, but never truly attain the pastoral heights of their influences. While the band’s previous releases shrouded their tweeness in feedback or synths, the stripped down nature of Realism ensures the fey lyrics have more than enough room to breathe which is not always a good thing - “Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree” - resulting in a rather frustrating listen. Merritt undoubted has the genius to craft the perfect pop song but this is a misstep which ultimately sounds forced -  the poor relation of it’s more capable siblings.