The Magnetic Fields

By Peter Hemminger

This may be music snob suicide, but I’ll willingly admit to not having heard any of Magnetic Fields’ albums before i fell into my proverbial lap.

Oh, of course I’d heard of them. When snobbing, band names get tossed around so casually, eventually you learn band names by sheer osmosis. You can list off the essentials in a band’s discography, the side projects of their various members and a half dozen reasons why they’re clearly better than Nickelback, all without having more than the vaguest of ideas what they sound like.

Judging from other reviews of i, my unfamiliarity with the group, or more accurately Stephen Merritt and the occasional collaborator, is an advantage. I’m not burdened with how the Fields’ last album 69 Love Songs, was an impossibly brilliant three disc epic able to shatter time, space and the collective unconscious of humanity if anyone were to fully grasp its importance. I didn’t notice the dramatic departure from the lo-fi synth sound Merritt used before blatantly selling his soul to get a major label deal. I don’t have to gripe about how “I Don’t Believe You” was originally released six years ago, so clearly Merritt is running out of ideas.

All I have to know is that i is much less pretentious and more charming than its concept would suggest (each of the album’s 14 tracks begin with the letter “I”). Merritt sings self-deprecating lyrics in a deep tenor more pleasing than it should be, while harpsichords, glockenspiels, banjos and even an electric sitar flesh out the arrangements. Who cares if it isn’t lo-fi–it still sounds damn good.

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