Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The Magnetic Fields - Love at the Bottom of the Sea

The Magnetic Fields have and always will find a place within my listening habits. '69 Love Songs' was released almost 13 years ago, with it's painful lyrics and delinquent guest vocalists. The instrumentation was absolutely amazing and gave New York City a triple album of indie pop. This is Stephin Merritt's pinnacle album, after the trio albums leading up to 69 Love Songs. Since then, The Magnetic Fields have dipped in terms of musical output and general quality. The 'no-synth' trilogy was welcomed by some and hated by others. 'Distortion' was the stand out album of the three and 'Realism' was a new low in terms of quality. 'Love at the Bottom of the Sea' has been released by Merge in the US and Domino in the UK, the first release on Merge since 69 Love Songs. It's also the first album with synthesizers since 69 Love Songs. All the signs point towards a lovely love indie pop album, just look at that cute furby cover.

'God Wants Us To Wait' opens with that surreal synthesizer. Then a hazy electric guitar riff enters. The track is sung by the ladies and has some lovely effects added to the pretty standard voice work. Depeche Mode-esque electronic drumming enters as the track sways around the track. It's actually a fantastic opener and the synthesizer lines are unbelievably catchy and work with the left and right sided percussion. The delayed drones by Stephin Merritt resets the verse and again with  Shirley Simms vocal. it ends nicely and sticks out as an instant likable track.

"A pity she does not exist. A shame he's not a fag. The only girl I ever loved was Andrew in drag". This is the opening lines to the lead single 'Andrew In Drag'. With it's layered chorus and vocal drones it set's itself up as that single. Stephin proves that age hasn't tarnished his sexual lyrical themes and indie pop aesthetics. I'm loving the lyrics and the brilliant song structure this song has. It's only two minutes ling and they make the most of the time on this track. 

'Your Girlfriend's Face' is sang by  Shirley Simms and I believe the live version of Stephin is most definitely better. It's a smashing pop track which (ignoring the hateful lyrics) would be played on any radio station worldwide. The chorus is lowered and the synthesizer works a charm with the thumping backing vocals and soundscapes. It's much alike the chirpy track 'I'd Go Anywhere With Hugh'. Which has similar vocals and a distinctive ukulele riff on the left side. The 'love' themes are present and it reminds me of a dense 69 Love Songs at this point.

Hazy vocals and delirious right sided female backing vocals set the mood for 'Born For Love'. Stephin sounds out of his depth and for the first time he sounds slightly out of place. The synthesizer is respectable but isn't present enough. Instead the synthesizer bass stands string with the heavily revered beat. The track has been produced well and the compact sound gives something a little extra above the previous emptiness. I'm not sure this is a good thing as I enjoyed that vagueness on 69 Love Songs. 'Infatuation (With Your Gyration)' carries on the synthesizer power. The beat is beautiful and the mixed vocals sound spectacular with the ukulele as the chorus. It's over in a flash much like the majority of this album, but the structure sticks out like it always does.

The album does drop in quality and 'The Only Boy In Town' has a standard rhythm with it's acoustics and heavily effected vocals. It's a little distorted and doesn't sound familiar in full force, it;s been clogged with instrumentation which doesn't fit. 'The Machine In Your Hand' has a fast paced vocal and an unusual instrumental abcking it. The synthesizers are familiar and flow nicely with the vocal. It doesn't stand out to me and the track is kind of messy. Not the best of tracks and not the clearest of tracks either, mainly due to the drum beat.

'Goin' Back to the Country' has bright keyboard sounds and is among my favourites from the album. The vocals reach new heights but sound a little bit cheesy, too Weird Al Yankovic for my liking. It's a common theme for the rest of the tracks which could all be classed as parody songs. Stephin Merrit does give a heavy vocal on 'I've Run Away to Join the Fairies' which is among his best vocals on the album, but the instrumental is pretty poor and messy. The synths are clearly present but for what purpose. It would sound just as good and even better if it was just the electronic drum beat with the acoustic guitar work. 'The Horrible Party' is similar. The bass is too abrasive and the lyrics are extremely cheesy. It could be a Rebbecca Black song and I wouldn't shake up a fuss. The messy background is exactly that, messy. It's hard to digest and it has several instruments which serve very little purpose other than sprucing up the sound. It's incredibly dense, but not in a good way.

Complexity has been a strong point in The Magnetic Fields history, but 'My Husband's Pied-a-Terre' just ruins all the indie pop god's vision I had for The Magnetic Fields. The synthesizer is awful because of the white noise sounds and abrasiveness. The bass makes the song structure and the vocals flow nicely but with little passion or desire. That;s the key difference here. The Magnetic Fields are just recording because they want to, they have no real passion or desire to create an outstanding and meaningful album. It's not that enjoyable when you look at it that way. 'I Don't Like Your Tone' adds to the mimicry. Andrew In Drag is clearly the only standout track with superior structure. Stephin doesn't sound convincing singing I Don't Like Your Tone, with 1/5th of the track being the fade in/fade out and having no real structure, it's pretty much filler. I can't pin point something which captures my ear, even the vocal progression sounds dated and predictable.

'Quick!' has a comical theme to it. The hard hitting bass synth is tight and has a great effect on the overall track. The vocals can go either way, one on hand they're distinctive and unusual, but on the other they're comical and parody-esque, slightly amateur. 'All She Cares About Is Mariachi' ends the album with lovely string work and a Stephin Merrit vocal. This is better than most of the previous tracks and the Eastern vibe is clearly represented with the lyrics. I enjoy the string work and the orchestral pieces are magnificent to hear. 

Every track clocks in at under three minutes, so it's both catchy and half full or half empty whichever way you want to look at it. It's 34 minutes long ans has 15 tracks, with lead vocals being rotated where applicable. I personally love the Stephin Merrit tracks, especially Andrew In Drag which sticks out as the lead track on the album. It has that section of messy 'filler' towards the end which brings the end result down. The lyrics are quite common and the satirical songs make for the better tracks. 


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