Monday, February 28, 2005

You can watch your friends through this tiny lens

Merritt frequently cites John Foxx's debut solo album Metamatic as one of his all-time favorites, and after hearing its chilly layers of synths and seemingly detached vocals, it's easy to understand why. Every instrument makes no attempt to sound natural, something that Merritt aims for on much of his work. The selection, "Touch and Go," demonstrates the use of non-drum sounds to keep the beat, a technique Merritt likes to use (listen to "Smoke and Mirrors" or "You Love to Fail" for starters), and pay attention to the lyrics, which paint a dreary picture of a possibly futuristic cityscape ("grey-blue haze," "motorway sparks," "moving stairway," etc.), sharing a kinship with "In the City in the Rain," "Tokyo Á Go-Go," and "Rats in the Garbage of the Western World."

Stephin appeared, in different incarnations, a total of three times on the Human League tribute album, Reproductions (on March Records). The contribution from Future Bible Heroes was a cover of the 80s nostalgia staple "Don't You Want Me?", which featured the trademark Merritt gender-switch trick (recall, for example, Susan Anway singing, "I can't be the man they want me to be.") It's almost comical the way Stephin emerges with his deep baritone, singing that famous line, "I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar." The original is from Dare, another of Merritt's favorite albums from the new wave era.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Bleeding from the waist, or kissing to be chaste

I venture to say that not a whole lot of people have heard the original version of "Babies Falling" by the Wild Stares, and I also would guess that many Magnetic Fields fans will be startled when they hear it. The brutally artificial-sounding drum machine, the tense vocals, the plodding Swans-esque bass lines, and the atonal guitar skronking are miles away from Susan Anway's gentle vocals and Stephin's bubbling synths.

The Wild Stares were active in Boston during the time Merritt lived in Massachusetts, and also, the band's Propeller record label released music by the band
V; whose lead singer was...Susan Anway. For more on the Wild Stares, read this article/interview from Perfect Sound Forever.

A discussion of Merritt's influences is impossible to conduct without mentioning ABBA, whose mastery of catchy pop has profoundly influenced his songwriting and recording methods. Merritt says:

"The first songs I wrote down, at the age of ten or so, were clumsy imitations for my then and now favorite band, ABBA. The lyrics concerned marital problems against a background of European history, and mentioned breakfast tables."

Elements of ABBA imbue many of his songs, but arguably, the track that demonstrates his ABBA-love the most is "Here in My Heart," by the 6ths on Wasps' Nests, which is quite similar to "Take a Chance on Me" in structure, chord progression, and overall sound.

"They knew what they were doing to such an extent that they often lapse over from high emotion into actual psychotic dream states - for me."

Monday, February 14, 2005

I saw shining lights, but I never knew they were you...

The first song is "They Were You" taken from the Original Cast Album of The Fantasticks. In an interview with Terry Gross (Fresh Air) five years ago exactly, on Valentine's Day, Stephin says:

"I think my favorite love song at the moment is 'They Were You' from the Fantasticks, the show, the longest running show in theatre history...

I heard it as a kid, but it was reintroduced to me in a romantic situation...and I've used that as a template for 'good love song.'"

He even honors Terry's request to sing a bit from it (start listening at the 7 min 23 sec mark). Also, recall that the Magnetic Fields track, "I Don't Believe You," features the line, "You may sing me 'They Were You,' and I start crying halfway through."

"The Saddest Story Ever Told" on The Wayward Bus very obviously borrows the main melody of "Then He Kissed Me," which epitomizes Phil Spector's distinctive "Wall of Sound," with every instrument and voice fighting for attention. On the topic of recording, Merritt says:

"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."


Hello, fans of Stephin Merritt, the man behind the Magnetic Fields, the 6ths, the Gothic Archies, Future Bible Heroes, and let's not forget Stephin Merritt soundtrack man.

Every week, I will post two new MP3s for your listening pleasure, each of which will fall into one of the following categories:
1) Songs that Stephin has covered.

2) Artists who have inspired and influenced him.

3) Artists/songs he has expressed liking (from his "best of" lists, interviews, etc.)

This blog will never, I repeat - never, post music that was actually made by Merritt. It will be updated every Monday, and each song will be available for 10 days.