The Magnetic Fields have been making their distinguishable synth pop for the better part of two decades, but have remained below the Pavement/Sonic Youth line in popularity amongst their indie peers.
Front-man Stephen Merrit and his almost comically disparaging vocals, along with the band’s round-about compositional sound courtesy of John Woo is an acquired taste. Merrit has always professed a penchant for theme albums such as 1999’s overly ambitious 69 Love Songs or 2004’s I, both of which contained cynical love hymns. On Distortion, the theme is just that: fuzzy amidst a cloud of feedback.
The opener, “Three-Way” is a fun instrumental which holds minimal lyrics and leaves the title to the imagination, Frequent collaborator Shirley Simms jadedly calls out plastic blondes on “California Girls,” while “The Nun’s Litany” pokes fun at adult female occupations without getting too lyrically dirty. “"Xavier Says" and "Too Drunk to Dream,” are classic indie MF singles as Merrit sings in the later, “Sober, life is a prison/Shitfaced it is a blessing.”
There’s a 60’s Velvet Underground fuzzy, roughly mixed quality atop Merrit’s lyrics that make a dent in Distortion’s compositional quality. What appears to be a crafty art effect instead comes off distracting, particularly on “Drive On, Driver,” “Please Stop Dancing” and “Till The Bitter End.”
Magnetic Field fans will find Distortion a must hear, but curiosity seekers should see it as a free art opening – stop by and decide for yourself whether to linger or jet.