If the Polyphonic Spree had about a quarter of its members, they’d probably make something that sounds like The Magnetic Fields’ latest release, “Realism.” Loaded with strange harmonies, harpsichord solos and quirky lyrics about love and tea parties, “Realism” is a lighthearted trip through the depths of indie noise-pop.
Singer, songwriter and producer Stephin Merritt has fronted The Magnetic Fields since the early 1990s. Between 1993-1999, the group released six full-length LPs on Merge Records, culminating in the three-disc concept album, “69 Love Songs.” Since moving to Nonesuch Records in 2002, The Magnetic Fields have created an additional three albums, all of which have a specific theme and structure.
While other albums relied more heavily on synthesizers and technological instrumentation, “Realism” concludes the group’s “no-synth trilogy.” Serving as the musical doppelgänger to the band’s 2008 effort, “Distortion,” “Realism” replaces industrial pop with folk-inspired jangles.
With help from cellist Sam Davol, banjo player/guitarist John Woo and percussionist/pianist Claudia Gonson, Merritt excels in musical creativity. Additionally, tubas, sitars, flugelhorn and child-like piano toys pervade the sonic landscape, particularly in songs like “We Are Having a Hootenanny” and “The Dolls’ Tea Party.”
What’s frustrating about “Realism,” though, is its lack of evolution within itself. Songs run together, resulting in a mushy, conceptual album with few standout tracks. “Realism is for the modern indie fan that can appreciate musical experimentation without requiring lyrical depth or breakout singles.
Hilary Saunders may be contacted at email@example.com.
Rating: 2.5/4 stars
Release Date: Jan. 26
Producer: Stephin Merritt