The Magnetic Fields, Distortion

I know lots of people who like them, but I never really got into the Magnetic Fields. However, taking a noise-pop turn is a good way to get my attention. The appropriately-titled Distortion is reportedly inspired by Jesus and Mary Chain, and runs the Fields’ pop songs through that sonic filter. I keep wanting to call them a synth-pop band, but the credits on the CD include the stern declaration “No synths”, so clearly that’s not right (even if it was two albums ago). (No synths?! Denied!)
The canonical length of a pop song is three minutes, and a look at the tracklist reveals that this band is very dedicated to that principle. The mean track length is 2:59, with a standard deviation of 6 seconds. (Steven Merritt has said that he was aiming for three-minute songs on this record.)
As for the actual music, it may be my preference for female vocalists but the songs where Shirley Simms sings (rather than Merritt) are definitely the best: “Drive On, Driver”, “The Nun’s Litany”, and “Till the Bitter End” in that order. The lyrics are clever and often amusing: the “Litany”, rather than being a religious song, is an exhibitionist fantasy, and the following track “Zombie Boy” is not speaking metaphorically, nor is the relationship with said zombie simply a platonic one based on brains alone.
There are a few skippable tracks on the CD: notably “Too Drunk to Dream”, and “Mr. Mistletoe”, which might be suffering from my bias against Christmas music (even if Christmas isn’t actually the focus of the song). Mostly, though, the quality of the songs stays pretty high.
They don’t seem to have posted any tracks for free download and I don’t see a good place to stream them (of course, there’s always MySpace), but I recommend sampling 30 seconds of “Drive On, Driver” or “The Nun’s Litany” at an online music store. It’s a fun album and worth checking out.

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