The Boston-based The Magnetic Fields are definitely on my radar. Headed by singer/songwriter Stephin Merritt, their newest album Realism, is a captivating and organic listening experience. Filled to the brim with strings (banjo, dobro, violin, and dulcimer to name a few), horns and “no-synths”, this album manages to transition from bitter and cynical at one moment, to innocent and wondrous at another.
Merritt has composed an album that is at many times sarcastic and hurt, but never lets it get entirely gloomy. The opening track You Must Be Out Of Your Mind, features the contrasting twang of a banjo with layered and post-sour romance vocals such as, “If you think you can leave the past behind, you must be out of your mind.” This frank and vaguely resentful feeling soon makes way for the track Interlude, sung with soft, child-like ruminations backed by a bell, string, and piano lullaby. Other, similarly fanciful tracks include The Dolls’ Tea Party and Painted Flower. Awaken from the dream to the honest and jovial We Are Having a Hootenanny, a blatantly silly but never-the-less enjoyable barnyard romp. It’s hard not to tap your foot along to similarly rambunctious and bizarre tracks including Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree and The Dada Polka.
Realism is like a raucous night out at the pub, followed by a whimsical waltz through a child’s fantasy world. Often sad, but never defeated, this collection of songs shows Merritt’s maturity as a musician and an individual. Each song’s tongue-in-cheek lyrical content, folksy arrangement, catchy melody, and refreshing lack of electronics, make this album a welcome addition to any indie/folk fan’s collection.
The Magnetic Fields kicked off their most recent tour in early February and will be touring the US and Europe until the end of March.