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Magnetic Fields

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Biography

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 rock underground. His songs are also far warmer and more purely pop-oriented than the above references indicate, sounding at times like late 20th century equivalents to the catalogs of Phil Spector or Brian Wilson. Merritt began recording music on his own four-track at a young age, but he didn't issue the first Magnetic Fields album until 1990, when he was well into his twenties. The first pair of discs featured the choir girl vocals of Susan Anway, but Merritt handled the vocals himself on most subsequent releases, singing in a deep croon not far removed from his European influences. The synth pop quotient also became heavier on those albums, although Merritt always took care to mix in quite a few natural instruments with the electronic ones, often with the help of Claudia Gonson (percussion) and Sam Davol (cello, flute). Throughout it all, an emphasis remained on the band's pop hooks and eccentric, romantically reflective lyrics rather than the bedrock synthetic rhythms and textures. In addition to his work with Magnetic Fields, Merritt involved himself in several side projects over the years, the most notable being the 6ths' Wasps' Nests album in 1995. Merritt sang only one track himself on this disc, for which he acted as composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, employing well-known alternative rock singers like Barbara Manning, Dean Wareham (Luna), Lou Barlow, Georgia Hubley (Yo La Tengo), Chris Knox, and Robert Scott (the Bats) to handle the lead vocals. After releasing 1997's New Despair as the Gothic Archies, Merritt finally returned to the Magnetic Fields aegis for 1999's 69 Love Songs, released as both a trio of separate discs and a limited-edition three-CD box set. Merritt spent the next few years releasing more side projects, including records from the Gothic Archies, Future Bible Heroes, and the 6ths, as well as numerous soundtracks. It wasn't until May 2004 that Merritt and his Magnetic Fields finally got around to making i, a collection of songs that begin with the aforementioned vowel. Distortion followed in early 2008; shortly thereafter, Merritt set to work on an acoustic folk-influenced album, Realism, which was released in January 2010. The Magnetic Fields returned in 2012 with Love at the Bottom of the Sea. Showcasing a return to the band's classic synthesizer and acoustic guitar pop sound, the album featured the single "Andrew in Drag." In 2016, Merritt announced an ambitious new album, 50 Song Memoir, which he said was meant to reflect his first 50 years of life on Earth, as well as the 50 different musical instruments used during the recording sessions. In late 2016, Merritt set out on a series of live dates in which he performed the song cycle as part of a show directed by José Zayas. The autobiographical album was released in March 2017. ~ Richie Unterberger
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Top Tracks

  1.   Track
    Popularity
  2.   100,000 Fireflies
  3.   Strange Powers
  4.   The Book of Love
  5.   Andrew in Drag
  6.   I Don't Want to Get Over You
  7.   I Don't Believe in the Sun
  8.   Papa Was a Rodeo
  9.   When My Boy Walks Down the Street
  10.   Desert Island
  11.   The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side
  12.   You Must Be Out of Your Mind
  13.   Drive on, Driver
  14.   I Don't Believe You
  15.   Smoke and Mirrors
  16.   Old Orchard Beach
  17.   Born on a Train
  18.   Zombie Boy
  19.   Xavier Says
  20.   Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree
  21.   I Thought You Were My Boyfriend
  22.   Absolutely Cuckoo
  23.   Young and Insane
  24.   All My Little Words
  25.   Reno Dakota
  26.   In My Car
  27.   A Chicken with It's Head Cut Off
  28.   '93 Me and Fred and Dave and Ted
  29.   California Girls
  30.   Underwear
  31.   '78 The Blizzard of '78
  32.   '69 Judy Garland
  33.   Josephine
  34.   '06 Quotes
  35.   '04 Cold-Blooded Man
  36.   '89 The 1989 Musical Marching Zoo
  37.   '79 Rock 'n' Roll Will Ruin Your Life
  38.   '86 How I Failed at Ethics
  39.   I Don't Like Your Tone
  40.   Too Drunk to Dream
  41.   I Looked All Over Town
  42.   Xylophone Track
  43.   Love Is Like a Bottle of Gin
  44.   Yeah! Oh, Yeah!
  45.   If You Don't Cry
  46.   Grand Canyon
  47.   Roses
  48.   Nothing Matters When We're Dancing
  49.   Boa Constrictor
  50.   Fido, Your Leash Is Too Long
  51.   The Cactus Where Your Heart Should Be
  52.   Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits
  53.   I Shatter
  54.   The Way You Say Good-Night
  55.   Epitaph for My Heart
  56.   Washington, D.C.
  57.   You're My Only Home
  58.   I Can't Touch You Anymore
  59.   I'm Sorry I Love You
  60.   '14 I Wish I Had Pictures
  61.   Abigail, Belle of Kilronan
  62.   I Think I Need a New Heart
  63.   Don't Look Away
  64.   '67 Come Back as a Cockraoch
  65.   Fear of Trains
  66.   Lonely Highway
  67.   '99 Fathers in the Clouds
  68.   '88 Ethan Frome
  69.   '92 Weird Diseases
  70.   '71 I Think I'll Make Another World
  71.   Experimental Music Love
  72.   '77 Life Ain't All Bad
  73.   '84 Danceteria!
  74.   Smoke Signals
  75.   '01 Have You Seen it in the Snow?
  76.   Infatuation (With Your Gyration)
  77.   My Only Friend
  78.   '75 My Mama Ain't
  79.   Dreams Anymore
  80.   (Crazy for You But) Not That Crazy
  81.   Crowd of Drifters
  82.   Saddest Story Ever Told
  83.   '12 You Can Never Go Back to New York
  84.   '11 Stupid Tears
  85.   '05 Never Again
  86.   '03 The Ex and I
  87.   '00 Ghosts of the Marathon Dancers
  88.   '98 Lover's Lies
  89.   '97 Eurodisco Trio
  90.   '90 Dreaming in Tetris
  91.   '85 Why I Am Not a Teenager
  92.   '73 It Could Have Been Paradise
  93.   '72 Eye Contact
  94.   '68 A Cat Called Dionysus
  95.   '66 Wonder Where I'm From
  96.   '74 No
  97.   All She Cares About Is Mariachi
  98.   From a Sinking Boat
  99.   Till the Bitter End
  100.   I Wish I Had an Evil Twin
  101.   Stray With Me
  102.   Dust Bowl
  103.   I Have the Moon
  104.   Long Vermont Roads
  105.   Zebra
  106.   Strange Eyes
  107.   How to Say Goodbye
  108.   Bitter Tears
  109.   Love in the Shadows
  110.   The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure
  111.   Acoustic Guitar
  112.   Busby Berkeley Dreams
  113.   World Love
  114.   No One Will Ever Love You
  115.   The Things We Did and Didn't Do
  116.   Sweet-Lovin' Man
  117.   My Sentimental Melody
  118.   A Pretty Girl Is Like
  119.   Punk Love
  120.   Come Back from San Francisco
  121.   Technical (You're So)
  122.   All You Ever Do Is Walk Away
  123.   Sugar World
  124.   Sad Little Moon
  125.   In My Secret Place
  126.   Swinging London
  127.   Torn Green Velvet Eyes
  128.   The Village in the Morning
  129.   When You're Old and Lonely
  130.   You and Me and the Moon
  131.   The Desperate Things You Made Me Do
  132.   Famous
  133.   Two Characters in Search of a Country Song
  134.   Falling in Love With the Wolfboy
  135.   Tar-Heel Boy
  136.   Living in an Abandoned Firehouse With You
  137.   Babies Falling
  138.   Kings
  139.   You Love to Fail
  140.   Railroad Boy
  141.   Dancing in Your Eyes
  142.   Candy
  143.   Lovers from the Moon
  144.   Two Kinds of People
  145.   All I Want to Know
  146.   '96 I'm Sad!
  147.   Summer Lies
  148.   Sunset City
  149.   The Flowers She Sent and the Flowers She Said She Sent
  150.   BBC Radiophonic Workshop
  151.   Mr. Mistletoe
  152.   '09 Til You Come Back to Me
  153.   '70 They're Killing Children Over There
  154.   Suddenly There Is a Tidal Wave
  155.   '94 Haven't Got a Penny
  156.   Blue You
  157.   '08 Surfin'
  158.   '95 A Serious Mistake
  159.   I'll Dream Alone
  160.   Very Funny
  161.   Infinitely Late at Night
  162.   It's a Crime
  163.   Painted Flower
  164.   '82 Happy Beeping
  165.   When the Open Road Is Closing In
  166.   Always Already Gone
  167.   The Dolls' Tea Party
  168.   Kiss Me Like You Mean It
  169.   Walk a Lonely Road
  170.   The Trouble I've Been Looking For
  171.   I'm Tongue-Tied
  172.   Promises of Eternity
  173.   Is This What They Used to Call Love
  174.   We Are Having a Hootenanny
  175.   Deep Sea Diving Suit
  176.   '91 The Day I Finally...
  177.   Interlude
  178.   Jeremy
  179.   Seduced and Abandoned
  180.   Love Is Like Jazz
  181.   If There's Such a Thing as Love
  182.   Old Fools
  183.   Irma
  184.   Courtesans
  185.   In an Operetta
  186.   I Was Born
  187.   Heather Heather
  188.   I Don't Really Love You Anymore
  189.   Asleep and Dreaming
  190.   Three-Way
  191.   I Die
  192.   Meaningless
  193.   The Dada Polka
  194.   Take Ecstasy With Me
  195.   '87 At the Pyramid
  196.   I've Run Away to Join the Fairies
  197.   It's Only Time
  198.   How Fucking Romantic
  199.   '76 Hustle '76
  200.   The Horrible Party
  201.   Love Goes Home to Paris in the Spring
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