Realism

by Lisa Kirchner

Magnetic Fields’ mastermind Stephin Merritt knows how to write poppy love ballads, and Realism is no exception.

This acoustic album delivers morose lyrics reminiscent of the band’s three-CD set, 69 Love Songs, but leaves behind the electronic, reverb-heavy instrumentation. On the first track, Merritt strums his ukulele in a minor key, singing, “You can’t go around just saying stuff because it’s pretty/And I no longer drink enough to think you’re witty,” exemplifying the stark and humorous lyrical style the band is known for. Musically, the album exudes a minimal quality, replacing the drum machine with unusual percussion instruments, like actual tree leaves. “We Are Having a Hootenanny” has a childlike quality with an upbeat union of acoustic guitar, banjo, and accordion, while Merritt and vocalist Claudia Gonson chant in unison about having a rootin’, tootin’ good time. Although Realism differs dramatically from the noisy grunge of the Fields’ previous album, Distortion, it is an excellent follow-up.

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