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'Quickies' Review: The Magnetic Fields' new album tunes prodding facetiousness and is scaled-back experimental

The band's new album can get as cryptic as it gets playful and is releasing on May 15
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Indie/experimental pop band, The Magnetic Fields, are set to release their new studio album 'Quickies', digitally, on May 15, via Nonesuch Records. The new record features twenty-eight new short songs by lead vocalist and founding member Stephin Merritt, ranging in length from thirteen seconds to two minutes and thirty-five seconds, and will also be released on five vinyl EPs and CD on May 29. 

Following the release of two singles from the album, 'The Day the Politicians Died' and 'Kraftwerk in a Blackout', the third single '(I Want to Join A) Biker Gang' was released on April 16.  Watch the official music videos for the songs below. 

Merritt shared his conceptualization of 'Quickies' in a statement, saying, "I've been reading a lot of very short fiction, and I enjoyed writing 101 Two-Letter Words, the poetry book about the shortest words you can use in Scrabble," he said. "And I've been listening to a lot of French Baroque harpsichord music. Harpsichord doesn't lend itself to languor," he continued. "So I've been thinking about one instrument at a time, playing for about a minute or so and then stopping, and I've been thinking of narratives that are only a few lines long," he added.
Merritt also said revealed that he "had been using a lot of small notebooks, so when I reach the bottom of the page, I've only gone a short way." He added, "Now that I'm working on a different album, I'm enforcing a large notebook rule so that I don't do 'Quickies' twice in a row." 

The Magnetic Fields - 'Quickies' cover art (Courtesy of Nonesuch Records publicity website)

On 'Quickies', The Magnetic Fields scale back the bass-pumped directives that many artists fall back on nowadays, replacing a full sound with fuller storytelling. With music that includes resonances of your trebled Beatles chants, the tremolo-tipped vocals of The Beach Boys, or recallings of the darker tones of more modern references like Low and the Pixies, the band directs you to the album's lyrics more than its sound.

The first track (just 35 seconds in length), titled 'Castles of America' reveals an intention of 'Quickies', a juxtaposition of modern politics and socialism with a fantasy-painted dimension. "I'm off to see the castles of America. I've got the silver line, I've heard the call" announces Merritt as he sings of a "two-year whirlwind tour."

Downwardly bent waggishness and prodding facetiousness seems to be the vocal weapons on 'Quickies', especially evident in songs like 'The Day the Politicians Died', a song about the blissful affair of a world without politicians. Pressing on single notes at a time, the song is driven by only a piano as the lyrics declare, "Billions laughed and no one cried. The day the politicians died. Celebrations spread worldwide. The day the politicians died. We've risen from the mud. We're different from the beasts. We've got the taste for blood. So let's eat all the priests." 

'Kraftwerk in a Blackout' reveals the band's ability to couple differentiating rhythms together, smoothly. The track gets a handful of guitar grooves overlayed including a rusty classic rock and roll riff (without the distortion), an acoustic guitar chime at every few bars, and a funky buzzy guitar groove which gets a sitar-resembling effect on each note.

Apart from its bitter under-the-radar callouts in the affairs of politics and the idiocracy of humanity, 'Quickies' takes a dig in morbidly religious and cryptic themes. With a sluggish pace and high melodies of fleeting emotions on the backup instruments, 'I've Got a Date With Jesus' is about exactly that and on the other hand 'You've Got a Friend in Beelzebub' touches on the sinking eeriness that comes with befriending the devil and knowing "more than you should about secret geometry."

Merrit has written and recorded twelve albums for the band to date, including the beloved '69 Love Songs' and the critically acclaimed box set '50 Song Memoir', which released in 2017 and chronicled the first fifty years of the songwriter's life with one song per year. Merritt has also composed original music and lyrics for several music theater pieces, including an off-Broadway stage musical of 'Coraline' (the novel by Neil Gaiman), for which he received an Obie Award. Aside from his work with The Magnetic Fields, Stephin Merritt also releases albums under the band names the 6ths, the Gothic Archies, and Future Bible Heroes. 

The Magnetic Fields have rescheduled their summer tour that celebrates the new album due to the coronavirus pandemic. The new dates have been pushed to January and February of 2021, with special residencies at intimate City Winery venues in seven cities including Atlanta, Chicago, Nashville, Boston, New York, Washington, and Philadelphia. Previously purchased tickets will be honored.