Introducing The Magnetic Fields

Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields

If you follow me on any of the social networks in current existence, you’ll know that my favorite band of all time is The Magnetic Fields, putting Stephin Merritt as perhaps my favorite musician of all time. I came across this band while listening to a particularly sad and mopey episode of This American Life. The episode was called Break-Up and it featured contributor Starlee Kine as she dealt with a particularly bad break-up. She talked about how sad songs somehow were able to express how she felt when she could not, citing “I Don’t Want To Get Over You” as an example.

That was when I fell in love with The Magnetic Fields. Immediately I got ahold of every album I could of theirs and listened to them on repeat for days, finding little bits here and there that I could relate to with each new listen. And now I’m sharing this love with you. I’ve made what I consider to be an essential introduction to The Magnetic Fields that encapsulates what I love about the band and what make them click for me.

You can listen to the songs here, but I URGE you to go buy the albums, which I’ve linked below.



I recently had a chance to stand about 5 feet away from Stephin Merritt while waiting in line at the concession stand at a local theater. Given my superb acting training, I was able to restrain myself and not go completely apeshit-fanboy. But manic Daffy Duck was alive in the back of my mind, bouncing around and screaming “WAAOOOO! WAAOOOO! IT’S HIM!!!!!!!!”

EDIT (6/16/2012):

There’s a Magnetic Fields music video? HELL YES! It’s one of the songs that I’ve added to the Spotify playlist above.

On That MGMT Album

Let’s get this out of the way immediately. I don’t like MGMT. They’re bland psychedelia with an extra helping of bland for good measure. Their initial charm for me was in their EP with “indie rokkers.” I was able to get behind the workings of that song and the musical directions present therein. With Oracular Spectacular, they went in the direction of their song “Kids,” and lost my interest completely. Did their new album Congratulations change anything for me?

Absolutely not. The new album is a bust, with every song bleeding into each other without anything to distinguish them apart from each other. The first track shows promise in much of the same way as “indie rokkers” did, but the interesting sound pretty much ceases after that and the whole affair becomes the familiar psychedelic whining that we were given in the first album. The band has stated that this was a “no singles” album, and it shows. Here’s hoping they grow and mature some in their next outing. You can check out the “Oracular Spectacular B-Sides” over at NPR, where they have an advanced preview. The album goes on sale on April 13.

If you want something along these lines that has a more of a unique sound, you might consider the Islands’ Vapours.

On That She and Him Album; It’s New

You may or may not have heard about a little musical pairing called She & Him. It’s a folk band by M. Ward and my super-crush Zooey Deschanel. This is a band that’s always maintained a place just under my radar. Volume 1 was a solid album, but I found it slow and dragging in more than a few parts. Even the album’s single “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here” kind of moseyed its way into my heart with the speed of a teenager asked to wash dishes…by hand. That’s not to say that I didn’t like the album, because I did. It just didn’t appeal to my more “pop” sensibilities.

Enter Volume 2, which dropped on the 23rd. Having seen the music video for “In the Sun” I was anxious to hear how the rest of the album played out. NPR once again had a play-through of the entire album, and I finally gave it a listen. From the get-go, I was drawn in thanks to the livelier tunes and the tighter songs. Instead of wondering when a song would end, I found myself wishing songs would go on just a little bit longer.

I realize that complaining about the pacing in a folk album is somewhat akin to bitching about Pizza Hut pizzas having too much grease, but for me it’s truly the difference between a “good” album and a “REALLY GOOD” album. And folks, it IS a REALLY GOOD album. Even if you’re not that big of a Deschanel fan, I suggest you give the band a second chance with this album. Who knows, you might even tap your toes a bit.

On Plastic Beach; It’s Some Kind Of Nature

Today marks the release of Plastic Beach, the third album by virtual band Gorillaz. If you’re up to date on your music news, you’ll know that NPR has had a preview of the entire album up on it’s site to give fans an early listen. After about a dozen or so listens, I thought I would share some kind of review for you. Short version: It’s good and you need to go buy it right away.

Slightly less short version: If you’re expecting the same kind of album as Demon Days or their self-titled debut, you might be a little disappointed. There are less standalone singles here than in previous albums. The trade off, though, is that the album feels more connected and flows way better. From first to the last track, it’s an entire experience. Granted, nothing quite to the extent of Girl Talk’s Feed The Animals, but it gets close and you will find yourself going through the entire album more than once without realizing how many tracks have passed.

I have a little bias in this review as I’ve enjoyed Damon Albarn’s band since the beginning and could tell I would enjoy this new album immediately after listening to Stylo when it was leaked awhile back. And the singles on this track are difficult to get out of your head, from the frenetic “Superfast Jellyfish” to the somber “On Melancholy Hill.” It’s a finely crafted album and I heartily recommend you get it at your earliest convenience.

On Broken Bells

I’m going to admit off the bat that I don’t have a lot of experience when it comes to Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse. The closest I’ve come to anything with his mark on it would have to be Gnarls Barkley and the second Gorillaz album, which still holds up for me all these years later. Well, today is the release date for his collaboration with The Shins’ James Mercer, titled Broken Bells. As with the Gorillaz album Plastic Beach, NPR had a preview up all of last week for fans to sample. I gave this one a rather ridiculous amount of play since I’m a rabid fan of The Shins.

My thoughts? It’s solid.

I read through a few early reviews and the general consensus on them is that the album is “meh” or just for the Zach Braff brand of hipster. Their problems with the album, however, are what I like about it. The album is simple, and Mercer proves that he can still work his vocal wonders while evolving his musical styling at the same time. There are moments here and there where the album gets a little slow, and that’s really the only place where I agree with most of the reviewers out there.

If you like either of these two artists and what they do, you’ll want to pick up this album. Like I said, it’s solid and enjoyable.

On DRM and Controlling Your Shit

From Techgeist:

You know what happens to authorized machines? They get reformatted and break over time. Yet the people who sell is software and digital media expect that when we need to reinstall Windows on our only computer so that we can get work done and meet deadlines, we’re thinking “oh, of course I have to go through EVERY PROGRAM I HAVE INSTALLED AND DEAUTHORIZE IT.” Screw that.

I feel bad for anybody who bought music back in the itunes DRM days, because there’s not really much you can do with the music unless you unauthorize / reauthorize or go through the pain of breaking the DRM through other means. But to stop buying from the itunes store because you disagree with policies that they disclosed early on and have since fixed (for the most part) seems a little rash.

I’m not really trying to defend Apple or their store here, but I would like to point out that keeping up to date with these companies’ policies is critical as a consumer and if you don’t agree with what they do, don’t patronize them. Case in point, I didn’t agree with the whole DRM thing, so I patronized Amazon. I don’t agree with Apple’s way of handling apps, so I bought an Android phone.

Not really going anywhere with this rather than just airing some initial thoughts from reading this article.

On Cheap Asses And Pandora

From the blog of Pandora:

The revised royalties are quite high – higher in fact than any other form of radio. As a consequence, we will have to make an adjustment that will affect about 10% of our users who are our heaviest listeners. Specifically, we are going to begin limiting listening to 40 hours per month on the free version of Pandora. In any given month, a listener who hits this limit can then opt for unlimited listening for the remainder of that month for just $0.99. In essence, we’re asking our heaviest users to put a dollar (well, almost a dollar) in the tip jar in any month in which they listen over 40 hours. We hope this is relatively painless and affordable–the same price as a single song download. (Alternatively, they can upgrade to “Pandora One”, our premium version which offers unlimited monthly listening in addition to its other benefits).

As someone who hopes to one day make a living out of being creative, I tend to side with the people making the content when it comes to issues of compensation. These people need to get paid for what they’ve created just like people who work in any other job deserve to get paid for the job they’ve done. There’s nothing that makes a “creative’s” work less deserving of financial compensation than that of a waiter, an office exec, or a city worker. At the end of the day, we all need to get paid so we can continue to live. In the case of Pandora, they should at least be able to make back some of the ridiculous royalties they have to pay the music industry, right?

Not if you’re a cheap bastard. I can’t count on my hands how many times I’ve heard people state that Pandora charging for extended use is wrong. These people come at it with a sense of entitlement, with the idea that they shouldn’t have to pay to listen to what is essentially “a radio.” When confronted, they backpedal and explain that they’re cheap and can’t afford the fees.

$.99 is hardly expensive in my book. And if you’re a power user, $.99 for the month is ridiculously cheap. Why not pay the small fee and help out a company that provides such an amazing service? Or you know, maybe buy your music for a change?

The big mistake any of us can make is to assume that we deserve ANYTHING for free. These services come to us cheap as a convenience, not as a requirement. These companies certainly aren’t breaking the bank by giving away their content and / or services so we should take a step back and be grateful we only have to pay a dollar for unlimited internet radio.

But…cheap bastards will be cheap bastards.

A Pretty Girl is Like…

A pretty girl is like a minstrel show,
It makes you laugh,  It makes you cry, You go
It just isn’t the same on radio.
It’s all about the makeup and the dancing and the Oh,
A pretty girl is like a violent crime,
If you do it wrong you could do time.
But if you do it right it is sublime. I’m so in love with you, girl, it’s like I’m on the moon.
I can’t really breathe, but I feel lighter.
A melody is like a pretty girl,
Who cares if it’s the dumbest in the world.
It’s all about the way that it unfurls.
A pretty girl is like a pretty girl.

– The Magenetic Fields