Magnetic Fields | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Magnetic Fields 

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MAGNETIC FIELDS

The Magnetic Fields' albums are meticulously layered, but not in the way contemporary musical trends might lead you to expect. Rather than stirring in trip-hop beats or meandering passages played on vintage keyboards, leader Stephin Merritt dolls up his graceful, unforgettable melodies in a decade-hopping array of time-tested pop fashions. "You and Me and the Moon" (from 1995's Get Lost) is a frothy blend of bubblegum and 80s new wave, while "When You Were My Baby" (from 1992's The Wayward Bus) is a switched-on Spector-style pocket symphony. His oddest hybrid so far is The Charm of the Highway Strip (1994), which matches country-and-western-style lyrics to effervescent technopop rhythms. But bubbles are meant to be burst: Merritt's incisive lyrics articulate an overwhelmingly jaundiced perspective on human relationships. Consider his sardonic prescription for marital bliss in "Aging Spinsters" (from Wasps' Nests, an album by his side project the 6ths): "You should find someone / As loyal as a dog / Who will still love you / When you look like a frog." The punch line is that Merritt has cast himself as the aging spinster (he's openly gay, as are most of the characters in his songs). In concert the Magnetic Fields take a sparer but no less appealing approach than on disc; Sam Davol's eloquent cello and Claudia Gonson's economical drumming leave the spotlight for Merritt's understated baritone and his versatile guitar playing. They're opening for Yo La Tengo at Metro on Saturday (see Peter Margasak's Critic's Choice) and headlining their own show, Tuesday, 9 PM, at Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 773-525-6620. At press time an in-store performance was also tentatively scheduled for Saturday at 4 PM, Reckless Records, 3157 N. Broadway; 773-404-5080. Bill Meyer

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Gail O'Hara.

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