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Cover Art Magnetic Fields
Rating: 8.8

Y'know, indie rock has such an expansive background, covering so many different musical territories, so many bands, and so many names, you couldn't learn them all in a lifetime, even if people stopped putting out new stuff tomorrow. And that's a goddamn pain in the ass, 'cause while you're worried about keeping up with all the crap, you miss the most important stuff without ever realizing it.

Such is the case with the Magnetic Fields. Until I made a conscious effort to pursue their music, they were just another band in a sea of bands (albeit one with a cool name). Then, tipped off by staff writer and Pal of the Ages Jason Josephes (and, I have to admit, a raving entry in Spin's "Alternative Record Guide"), I went out and purchased a copy of Charm of the Highway Strip. It turned out to be one of the most brilliant pop records I own... and I own a lot of brilliant pop records.

In anticipation of the band's forthcoming three- disc box set of brand new music-- the aptly titled 69 Love Songs, due out later this year-- Merge has reissued two classic Magnetic Fields records, The House of Tomorrow EP, and what some folks consider to be the band's classic, 1993's Holiday.

So what's it sound like? Well, that's where it gets fun. The Magnetic Fields is-- except when touring-- almost solely frontman Stephin Merritt's project. Merritt's instrumentation is comprised only of a closetful of early Casio, Yamaha and other keyboards, which he layers over one another, capturing a completely original sound. The music is tinny, quirky, and pre-programmed to the core, while Merritt's vocals are unusually deep-- like a more elegant Calvin Johnson.

Holiday is definitely an inspired record-- the melodies are poppy as hell, in Merritt's trademark Pet Shop Boys kinda way. Songs like the slowed- down dance machine groove of "In My Secret Place," the eloquent "The Flowers She Sent and the Flowers She Said She Sent," and the amazing closer, "Take Ecstacy With Me" are chunky pieces of catchy, glowing pop that stick in your head like the gooey clumps of bubblegum they are.

Luckily, though, on both 1994's Charm of the Highway Strip and 1995's Get Lost, Merritt seems to have advanced in the lyrics department. I mean, sure, the guy's still sappy as hell, but that's all part of his appeal. Holiday, however, is Merritt in Super Sappy Mode, with overly saccharine lyrics like, "Our lips blue from cotton candy/ When we kiss it feels like a flying saucer landing." The great thing about Merritt's lyrics, though, is that he sometimes surprises with lines of striking genius-- the line preceding the aforementioned lyric is, "On the ferris wheel/ Looking out on Coney Island/ Under more stars than/ There are prostitutes in Thailand."

But even while the Magnetic Fields' records flounder lyrically, you'll be preoccupied paying attention to the layers upon layers of intricate keyboards and drum machines, and the band's shockingly memorable melodies. I'm still sticking with Charm of the Highway Strip for the band's best record. But if you've already heard that one and you find yourself in need of a new sugar fix, by all means, pick up Holiday.

-Ryan Schreiber



10.0: Indispensable, classic
9.5-9.9: Spectacular
9.0-9.4: Amazing
8.5-8.9: Exceptional; will likely rank among writer's top ten albums of the year
8.0-8.4: Very good
7.5-7.9: Above average; enjoyable
7.0-7.4: Not brilliant, but nice enough
6.0-6.9: Has its moments, but isn't strong
5.0-5.9: Mediocre; not good, but not awful
4.0-4.9: Just below average; bad outweighs good by just a little bit
3.0-3.9: Definitely below average, but a few redeeming qualities
2.0-2.9: Heard worse, but still pretty bad
1.0-1.9: Awful; not a single pleasant track
0.0-0.9: Breaks new ground for terrible

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