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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
+ Svalastog - Woodwork
+ Tim Hecker - Harmony In Ultraviolet
+ Rosy Parlane - Jessamine
+ Jarvis Cocker - The Jarvis Cocker Record
+ Múm - Peel Session
+ Deloris - Ten Lives
+ Minimum Chips - Lady Grey
+ Badly Drawn Boy - Born In The U.K.
+ The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls Together
+ The Blood Brothers - Young Machetes
+ The Places - Songs For Creeps
+ Camille - Le Fil
+ Wolf Eyes - Human Animal
+ Christina Carter - Electrice
+ The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
+ Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye
+ Various Artists - Musics In The Margin
+ Rafael Toral - Space
+ Bob Dylan - Modern Times
+ Excepter - Alternation
+ Chris Thile - How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
+ Brad Mehldau - Live in Japan
+ M Ward - Post-War
+ Various Artists - Touch 25
+ The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
+ The White Birch - Come Up For Air
+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
+ Giuseppe Ielasi - Giuseppe Ielasi
+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
+ Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
+ Barbara Morgenstern - The Grass Is Always Greener
+ Robin Guthrie - Continental
+ Peaches - Impeach My Bush
+ Oakley Hall - Second Guessing
+ Klee - Honeysuckle
+ The Court & Spark - Hearts
+ TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
+ Awesome Color - Awesome Color
+ Jenny Wilson - Love And Youth
+ Asobi Seksu - Citrus
+ Marsen Jules - Les Fleurs
+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
+ Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
+ The 1900s - Plume Delivery EP
+ Alejandro Escovedo - The Boxing Mirror
+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
+ Loscil - Plume
+ Boris - Pink
+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
+ The Red Krayola - Introduction
+ Metal Hearts - Socialize
+ American Princes - Less And Less
+ Sondre Lerche And The Faces Down Quartet - Duper Sessions
+ Supersilent - 7
+ Band Of Horses - Everything All The Time
+ Dudley Perkins - Expressions
+ Growing - Color Wheel
+ Red Carpet - The Noise Of Red Carpet
+ The Essex Green - Cannibal Sea
+ Espers - II
+ Wilderness - Vessel States

44.1 kHz Archive

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Stephin Merritt
Eban & Charley soundtrack

Just around a year ago, the Magnetic Fields performed 69 Love Songs over two nights at the Somerville Theater in Somerville, Mass.; for an encore, Stephin Merritt and his group of players and singers stood, hands linked, at the foot of the stage, for exactly four minutes and 33 seconds — a sly cover of composer John Cage's notorious "4:33," a musical piece consisting entirely of rests (the same "cover" appears in between "Distant Plastic Trees" and "The Wayward Bus" on Merge Records' single-disc reissue of those two early albums). Some people in the audience shouted heckles and threats, some whispered to their friends with knit brows, others sat back and "listened" with knowing grins.

This new album, which Merritt wrote for the film "Eban & Charley," will anger the hecklers, confuse the whisperers, and delight the grinners. Consisting of six above-average, classically Merritt pop songs and a slew of short instrumentals that can only be described as nouveau-avant-garde, the album is surprisingly consistent despite its unbalanced components. It just depends on what kind of listener you are — it's easy to skip through the instrumental tracks, but they're certainly a worthwhile part of the album, and an important step in Merritt's career.

Merritt's proclivity toward the avant-garde has never been hidden (consider the last 15 minutes of the Sixths' "Hyacinths and Thistles," which stretches out seemingly forever on one repeating keyboard line), but it hasn't shown up so proudly or with such availability before this album. The little snippets of instrumentation include toy pianos, regular pianos, interesting and varied percussion, and strange sound effects that vary from nature clips to what sounds like video games. The compositions seem like the results of Merritt's obsessive studio commandeering, but they're still full of emotion — "Cricket Problem"'s down-tempo finish is soaked in sadness, and "Victorian Robotics," a plodding but structured collage of echoey percussion, somehow conveys a feeling of tension, hard to pin down but undeniable.

How this series of odd and breezy instrumentals fits into a film about a gay May-December romance will remain unknown, as the film's flash-in-the-pan theatrical release lasted about as long as the running time of the soundtrack. How the pop songs fit into the film is another, possibly harder, question to answer. Short, minute-long sketches like "This Little Ukelele" and "Tiny Flying Player Pianos" would seem to focus an audience's attention on the songs they're hearing and not the image in front of them — it's hard not to notice and be drawn to a line like "Tiny flying player pianos carried aloft on the breeze; as evening falls, they hang beneath the eaves." It's another variation on a question posed by so many films: is the soundtrack a representation of the movie, or is the film a vehicle for the soundtrack? Guess we'll have to wait for the video to figure that one out.

Regardless of how they might be utilized in "Eban & Charley," "Poppyland" and "Maria Maria Maria" are two very strong entries, the latter a slow, beautiful entreaty of unrequited love, the former an upbeat and joyful tune about a place in which "all your favorite things are painted on the wings of the butterflies" and "wished-upon moonbeams and abandoned dreams, they fall like snow." It's up to interpretation whether those things are good or horrible, or whether the song is Merritt's ode to recreational drug use, but it sure sounds pretty, nonetheless. These fleshed-out, fully realized songs put the shorter tunes into context, and make the album into a cohesive whole. It's a subtle equation, but Merritt has combined his knowledge of the workings of pop music with his own experimental tendencies to make it work.

by Neal Block

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