A blog devoted to the works of Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields, The 6ths, Future Bible Heroes, The Gothic Archies, et al. This blog will feature news related to his work, as well as occasional fanboy gushes from the author. Thank you for stopping by, and may all your dreams come true.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Review

Sometimes I fear there are those of you who tire of me editorializing on this blog as frequently as I do.  Particularly when all I have to offer to intelligent conversation is effusive and endless praise of the music the blog purports to cover, which I'm sure doesn't always read as genuinely as it feels to me.  This being the case, I suppose it's only fair to offer the forewarning that if you count yourself amongst this number, then go ahead and bugger off because the following post isn't going to break tradition in any way.


The first noises on "God Wants Us to Wait" suggest that Love at the Bottom of the Sea isn't necessarily the "return-to-form" that so many have been espousing it to be.  Firstly, I'm not sure the band ever had a distinctive form to which they could return as they've never made two records (barring, of course, the first two) that sounded at all alike.  And, of course, just because Stephin Merritt is using synthesizers on a Magnetic Fields record again for the first time since the 90's doesn't mean that he's going to make a record that sounds anything at all like the records he made in the 90's.  Stephin Merritt proves forthwith on this record that he doesn't fucking move backward, he pushes forward to establish a new sonic soundscape and makes consistently beautiful music.


While not quite as cacophonous as 2008's Distortion (because what could be, really?), this is still a noisy record in a lot of ways.  Perhaps noise-y is a better way of putting it, inasmuch as it features a bounty of different sounds throughout.  "The Horrible Party," in particular, features a collage of odd, indiscernible sounds that pulsate throughout, being held together by the melody offered up by Mr. Daniel Handler's accordion.  The synthetic wall of sound is prominent throughout the record.  But, the songs are never overpowered!  The instrumentation and vocal takes are enhanced so much by these strange synthetic backgrounds, bolstered into a wholly different sphere of synth music.

I say synth music because to say that this is a synthpop record is to diminish one of the foremost accomplishments of Love at the Bottom of the Sea.  The production style of the record is far and away removed from the songs themselves in a lot of ways, which might not be much of a surprise for most fans of Stephin Merritt's music.  Mr. Merritt's songs are as genre-spanning as ever, they just happen to be layered with brand new synthesizers.  "All She Cares About is Mariachi," for instance, could easily be translated into Spanish and sung convincingly by an actual mariachi band.  "Goin' Back to the Country" is indeed a country song, and is as engaging as any country song Mr. Merritt has ever written.  That these genre experimentations not only survive but are, in fact, improved by the radical synth sounds is a testament to the masterful production work of this album.  

But, do I love the songs?  Of course I do.  Attempting to describe how widely I smiled when the synthy rhythmic beat of "God Wants Us to Wait" first kicked in would be a futile effort.  The pulsing, bouncing beat of "Born for Love" is amongst Mr. Merritt's most infectious hooks.  I've spent the past two days endlessly dancing to "Infatuation (With Your Gyration)," even when I haven't been listening to it, and alternately crying just thinking about the epic hate song that is "Quick!"  Others have described the record as being overarching; I don't think it's condescending to say that I'm not sure these people are listening properly.  Stephin Merritt's abilities as a lyrical storyteller really are more developed here than ever before.  The economy of words with which the story of "I'd Go Anywhere With Hugh" is told is proof of this enough, and to overlook that by calling it "arch" feels lazy to me.  I admit forthwith that if any one person has a natural predisposition to this music, it would be me, but I do not think I'm allowing that bias to get in the way here.  

Being a fan of Stephin Merritt's music has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my life, this blog being cemented proof of that.  Love at the Bottom of the Sea does not disappoint.  Perhaps the best aspect of getting a new record as good as this one is establishing a relationship with the music that will continue to develop the more I listen to it.  I look forward to doing that with this record more than I can say, and discovering new things in it with which to fall in love years and years down the line.  Go buy the record, folks, and listen to it repeatedly.  

5 comments:

  1. Hey nice review. i don't think youre being condescending at all, by the way, it's clear you really love the music.

    BTW why is the font different on this post? just wondering.

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    1. Thank you, Geoff! I don't know if I encapsulated how I feel about the record as well as I would've liked, but such a task is a daunting one indeed.

      Yeah, I don't know what the fuck is up with the font. I copied it from my word processor into Blogger and then changed it to the default font I use on all the posts, but for some reason only the first paragraph will cooperate and actually change to that font. I've tried editing it a dozen times, it won't work. Kind of a bummer.

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  2. It's refreshing to read a review of a new album that doesn't mention 69 Love Songs.

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    1. Alex. I appreciate this so much! I do find it maddening when 69LS is used as anything other than a way of introduction in recent journalistic endeavors. Particularly the pretty fervent usage of it as a base of comparison for every other project with which Mr. Merritt is involved, which is unfair and shitty.

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