Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Album Review:
Magnetic Fields - Distortion

Magnetic Fields - Distortion

(Merge, 2008)


[mp3] "Old Fools"

, huh? While certainly an appropriate album title - the whole album is caked in distortion, feedback squalls, and hiss - it could just as easily have been titled Stephen Merritt's Does Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy. You don't even have to listen to the album or even take my word for it, he more or less admitted the Psychocandy influence in a recent article on Drowned in Sound. Upon first listen, I was quick to write Distortion off along with the truckload of other albums that have tried their hand recapturing Jesus and Mary Chain's pinnacle album but I've kept going back since that initial listen. At first because it was my duty to review the album, but lately it has more to do with the fact that Distortion has finally started to grow on me.

Further listens have revealed more substance to the album, which allows it to stand on it's own, uh, merits (no pun intended...okay, maybe a little). For starters, there's the lyrics. Now, I'll admit that I'm not incredibly familiar with the Magnetic Fields aesthetic, I do know that they're not above making concept albums, but as to just how personal the band allows themselves to become lyrically, I have no idea. With that said, Stephen Merritt's songs on Distortion portray him as a sad, heartbroken, lonely man, while the tracks sung by Shirley Simms seem like they could be from the perspective of his former lover, who for the most part seems just as confused and misdirected as Stephen. Again, I cannot tell exactly how revealing either singer is with their songs, but it doesn't really matter. Each song tells a tale, regardless of just how truthful it is.

With one exception, the two singers trade song for song, giving the listener equal doses of immediate access and contrast into both of their lives. It's an interesting technique, and though at times it can be a bit distracting, it gives the album more of a cinematic feel, like they intended for the listener to feel as if they were jumping from scene to scene as well as song to song. The lyrical content also helped me to realize that the title Distortion likely refers to more than just the noisy nature of the songs. While both singers portray them or their characters as confused, Stephen's perspective seems especially altered. At one point he's walking around the town alone for the first time, while another he's stating that life is prison unless he's shitfaced. His life is messy like the album is noisy. To quote Femme Fatale, "form and content together at last."


cole said...

I am still sorting out my feelings for these guys. I liked "69 Love Songs," but I still haven't warmed up to "Holiday" as much as I thought I would. But I feel like I really SHOULD like it, you know?

cole said...

or I guess I should say, "this guy."

SonicRyan said...

Same here, actually. I think warming up is the key, they're not easily accessible by any means. Had I reviewed this album even a day earlier, I wouldn't have scored it higher than 65%. It grew on me at the right time, I guess.

The Moon said...

I like 69 and I and what I've heard of this album but I can't say I'm really a fan of anything prior... It's not that the song writing isn't there... it just that I'm not a big of a fan of the 80's cheesy synth thing =\