I've been listening to i by the Magnetic Fields repeatedly since last week. So far, I agree with the Voice: this modest collection of typically eclectic songs finds the MFs running in place. Stephin Merritt's songcraft, of course, remains peerless: catchy songs like the witty, techno-tinged "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend" is as good as a middle-tier 69 Love Songs track. And that's very good indeed, as 69 Love Songs is one of the greatest pop albums of recent years. Too bad there just wasn't anything in the new album as deeply felt as "Bugsy Berkeley Dreams" or as clever as "Washington D.C."
A month back, I saw a terrific production called Peach Blossom Fan, an arch, post-modern Chinese opera scored by Merritt. Experimenting with Chinese motifs and sounds (like an electronic lute) appeared to have inspired Merritt's songwriting and arrangements, as he accomplished the almost impossible task of making super-high-octave Chinese opera sound pleasing, largely by playing Chinese melodies using western scales and undercutting the form's shrieking pitch with his trademark droning synth. I guess I was hoping for a more interesting direction from Merritt after his inspired side project than what we got.
By the way, check out Thomas Bartlett's fascinating and lengthy interview with the prickly Merritt in Salon. Most notable fact: Merritt saw all 36 Ozu movies at the retrospective in D.C! Second most notable fact: Merritt is barely 5 feet tall!
Lastly, Nick Hornby gets reamed by indie music bloggers.