February 7, 2008

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The Magnetic Fields, Distortion
Nonesuch Records, Jan. 15
Misanthropic New York geek Stephin Merritt’s first show with his full Boston-based Magnetic Fields band took place at TT the Bears in Cambridge back in 1991, a watershed moment for Au Bon Pain-gobbling grad-student fans of droning, cockeyed, overly cynical pot-luck indie rock. Sufjan Stevens, whose impossible dream of releasing an album for each state in the union, could take a cue from Merritt’s work ethic, as he actually did cough up an album titled 69 Love Songs which consisted of exactly that, even if it took Merritt four years of between-other-bizarre-projects time to slap it together and in the main it sounded like Crash Test Dummies attempting to be important. Distortion is a similar long-range telegraphed punch of a title, and even if there’s no rational explanation for Merritt’s sudden interest in Boris-esque whacked-out skronk (and lack thereof in keeping his fan base), anything’s better than that old Eels-like baloney (totally boss tunes to write a Linux kernel by!). Meantime, Distortion itself is competitive with the recent Warlocks album, if more tune-oriented and markedly less mental. B- — E. W. S.