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Album Review

Magnetic Fields' fourth release, 1994's Holiday, was the first to be sung by Stephin Merritt, original lead singer Susan Anway having moved to Arizona from the duo's Massachusetts home. It's difficult to remember after several albums how profoundly odd Merritt's voice, a deep baritone with sleepy phrasing that vacillates mostly between the poles of deadpan wryness and romantic longing, sounded on first exposure. That voice is so perfect for Merritt's remarkable lyrical sense, however, with its striking imagery, Cole Porter-level rhymes, and mix of mordant wit and unabashed romanticism, that Holiday is in many ways the first true Magnetic Fields record. Early Magnetic Fields albums each had a specific and unique sound. Holiday has the flavor of early-'80s synth pop of the Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (circa Architecture and Morality) stripe. The songs are melodic and immediately accessible, but with a chilly tone and a predilection for odd noises and unexpected accents. The songwriting is a huge leap beyond the first two Magnetic Fields albums, which have their share of gems but are unfortunately uneven. Every track here is a winner, with the percolating "Strange Powers" and the wistful "The Flowers She Sent and the Flowers She Said She Sent" the highest points. Merritt would eventually abandon this synth pop sound on Magnetic Fields records in favor of an increasingly acoustic and delicate feel, though his albums with Future Bible Heroes have a similarly electronic sheen.

Biography

Formed: 1990 in Boston, MA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

The Magnetic Fields may be a bona fide band, but in most essential respects they are the project of studio wunderkind Stephin Merritt, who writes, produces, and (generally) sings all of the material. Merritt also plays many of the instruments, concocting a sort of indie pop-synth rock. While the Magnetic Fields' albums draw upon the electronic textures of vintage acts like ABBA, Kraftwerk, Roxy Music with Eno, Joy Division, and Gary Numan, Merritt's vision is far more pointed toward the alternative...
Full Bio