Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Stephin Merritt: Profiles from the Illustrations

Stephin Merritt, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

     Stephin Merritt is a sarcastic riddle, impossible to fully describe. His website states, "Bubblegum purist Stephin Merritt has released seven albums by his band The Magnetic Fields, and two albums from The 6ths, all of them featuring extremely catchy songs. Besides the Magnetic Fields and The 6ths, Stephin also creates music under the names Future Bible Heroes and The Gothic Archies. Merritt's five former Magnetic Fields albums --Distant Plastic Trees, The Wayward Bus, Holiday, and The Charm of the Highway Strip and Get Lost have placed him deep within the heart of the underground music community for nearly a decade. Now, with domestic sales of his latest album "69 Love Songs" reaching over 150,000, Merritt's work has brought him away from his former rarified status as "indie rock hero", and garnered him mainstream success. Spin and Rolling Stone magazine, along with dozens of major national magazines and newspapers, have hailed "69 Love Songs" as one of the best albums of 1999. Merritt has gained official recognition as one of the country's best recent songwriters; the "Cole Porter of his generation". Merritt credits much of his singular compositional ability to his early grounding in classic Top 40 pop, notably the shimmering structural perfection of ABBA (which he cites as his favorite band). Merritt's lovely melodies are complemented by lyrics ripe with melancholy personal insights and bittersweet imagery. As the Village Voice pointed out, "These songs and their characters can get no closer to satisfaction than the margin, a memory or a daydream. Merritt sings obsessively about travel- alone in his living room sad shimmering music box melodies, he imagines a 'free love zone' somewhere far away. " Self- producing and arranging his songs, Merritt conjures meticulously crafted soundscapes using a variety of acoustic, electronic and improvised instruments. "Recording oneself allows the freedom to develop a production style other than the usual one," Merritt states. "As a producer, I'm not looking for a "realistic" effect. I like Phil Spector and ABBA records because they aren't striving for realism. I can't hear individual instruments, just the notes.""
...but that barely scratches the surface. Perhaps, more than any other source, true glimpses of who Stephin is can be best gleaned from listening to his beautiful songs.

Strange Powers- Stephin Merritt and The Magnetic Fields- movie trailer
The Magnetic Fields- "Papa Was a Rodeo" 
The Magnetic Fields- "I Think I Need a New Heart" 
The Magnetic Fields
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