Mar 27, 2014

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3 Songs: “Magnetic Fields Fangirl” Edition

I once tweeted that if I didn’t have CanCon restrictions, my radio shows would likely just be 90 minutes of Magnetic Fields. The Boston synthpop band has been putting out music for as long as I’ve been alive—Jesus—and for every “meh” song there’s at least two absolutely brilliant ones. I love so much of what they do that this should only be considered a “3 songs I love out of several dozen of their best” list, and you probably shouldn’t be surprised if you see an album-by-album breakdown somewhere down the line.

Busby Berkley Dreams

So The Magnetic Fields’ Stephen Merritt set out to write 69 love songs, and that’s exactly what he did. The resulting mega-album wavers across genres, from Johnny Cash-style grumblings to delicate piano ballads, so it’s virtually guaranteed that you’ll hate some of them and fall in love with others. Of my select favourites, Busby is probably the one that’s the most meaningful on a personal level. I love the story it tells—“We still dance on whirling stages / in my Busby Berkley dreams”–and the dissonance between the soft sadness of the song itself and its flashy, upbeat subject matter. When I discovered this song, I was having incredibly vivid dreams about a recent ex-boyfriend—a side effect of new medication—and it was distressing to have my brain conjure him up just as he’d been before our breakup, but also weirdly comforting. It’s that push-pull that happens when a person has hurt you very deeply, but you still miss having them in your life, even though logically you know they’re not good for you. This song captures that.

California Girls

This was the first Magnetic Fields song I ever heard, and it’s still a standout. I love the distorted instruments and the Dandy-Warhol-esque vocals, as well as the messy fuzziness that calls to mind Wave of Mutilation; basically this song is the epitome of delicious noisy neo-psychedelia. The lyrics are hidden beneath the distortion, but once you discern what they are you’ll find yourself giggling at just how vicious they are. Plus, this track can be played after the Katy Perry song of the same name to prove its entire thesis—the shallowness of a certain brand of Los Angeles-based lady—which makes me chuckle.

God Wants Us to Wait

This spot nearly went to “Quick!”, but I’ve already addressed the Magnetic Fields’ talent for aching breakup songs above, so instead I’m choosing to feature another song from the same album—2012’s Love at the Bottom of the Sea—because it’s got extraordinarily clever lyrics and an undeniably sexy tune full of carnivalesque motifs. As the album opener it does a great job of setting the tone for the rest of the songs to follow, as well as introducing the band’s new trajectory following the completion of their “No-Synth” trilogy. Plus, coming from a band that’s written 69+ songs about love and sex, it’s pretty clear that they’re taking the piss out of religious-based abstinence here, and it works so well that I can’t help but hit the repeat button.

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