The Magnetic Fields: Realism

When the business of the next week or so dies down, I will write down my thoughts in greater detail, but here are my initial impressions.

One of the greatest signs of the quality of Stephin Merritt's craft is the total recognizability of his work in its various experimental iterations. Indeed, the last decade (and I'm including 69 Love Songs here because it is barely 2010) have been all about that kind of experimentation, based on the firm foundation of something that is fundamentally solid, clear, and, at times, soul-shattering. In this way, Stephin is both an auteur and an actor so talented that he can slip between characters seamlessly while leaving traces of his own discernable qualities.

All of that is to say that the early 90's totally rocked for The Magnetic Fields, and Realism makes me glad to have that sound back again. Perhaps it is a trick played by the earnestness acoustic music feigns so well, but this album is nevertheless the closest in a long time to what TMF sound like when they are not playing other characters.

While I write this, I am completely aware of the maturity that this album demonstrates that is probably derived from the last decade's experimental work. This maturity is as whimsical as it is derived from smart editing and good choices of vocalists (Shirley Simms should sing at least 50% of the band's songs, as far as I'm concerned). It would be wrong to attribute said maturity to some kind of linear progression, though. We know that the concepts of these albums are often thrown around simultaneously for years and emerge as the result of specific historical and spatial circumstances, including the band members' places of residence and the availability of certain spaces as recording studios. So while the album's perspective is clear, it is referential only to the extent that it marks a kind of vertical historicity in which threads of Holiday and Get Lost, and even more so in this album, the Charm of the Highway Strip, emerge alongside moments of referencing Distortion's themes and 69 Love Songs' variety.

I am going to stop myself before I write anything else. Buy the album and enjoy it.


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