Must disagree strongly with the positive press lauding the Magnetic Fields’ Distortion, including Christgau’s raves.  Principally, the record is unlistenable — distorting the MF’s usually low fi equipment and cheap (but usually clean) recording techniques simply makes the point of the songs, which are the words, harder to hear and harder to care about.  And to my tastes (obviously not universal), the fact that Merritt’s historical fantasies and Broadway-Hollywood musical reference points have been definitively replaced, over this decade, with gothic, means that the songs move away from the satire and irony that ring true, or rather “true,” and into more obscure realms that do not.  No, you don’t need to explain to me the meaning of monsters.  I get it.  That’s the point.

People who made too much of the renowned (and excellent) 69 Love Songs are looking for Merritt to be their seer.  Sure it’s follow-up, i, only hit it about two out of three and it’s concept meant less then it aimed for, but that’s true of 69 Love Songs too.  On the other hand, i contains the best song Merritt will ever write, the perfect “I Don’t Believe You,” which sums up everything he has to say, and will make you laugh time and again. 

If you can’t achieve bemused knowledge on the first listen to a Merritt song, or if the references aren’t already second nature to you, you generally won’t learn more by listening four times time or doing dissertation research.  Artists who live by their words shouldn’t make you dig them out painfully.


3 Responses to “Distortion”

  1. 1 schweitzito

    I’m not going back to it like i did i, but when the words aren’t “California Girls” “Too Drunk to Dream” or “The Nun’s Litany,” I find that the simple pleasures of the tunes are reinforced by the sound — I’ve heard bad records that tried a hazed-over soundscape (anyone remember R.E.M.’s Up?). I’m convinced this isn’t one.

  2. 2 kmostern

    “Too Drunk to Dream” is the best thing on the album, I grant. If only “California Girls” were actually the track it should be — which, by the way, would include the old cheesy but clean way of doing things, just like the Beach Boys, NOT this new “distorted” way — we might have an album.

  3. 3 solidstate

    Agreed: “69 Love Songs” is untoppable. That won’t stop some people from bemoaning how Merritt has washed out/sold out/blanded out/etc. upon every subsequent release until he stops making music (and after). Poor guy is going to feel like Liz Phair post-“Exile in Guyville.” In some folks’ eyes (and ears), she can’t do anything right anymore, and they never seem to tire of saying so.

    That said, “Distortion” itself would be untoppable coming from 99 out of 100 other artists. Merritt’s no seer. What he is, is a remarkable talent, even when toiling under (admittedly) pointless layers of distortion.

    Punctutation note: the possessive “its” has no apostrophe. Sorry — it’s a pet peeve.

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