Music Review: Magnetic Fields' "Realism"

2/05/2010 Posted by Admin

By our guest blogger, Megan O'Malley

The Magnetic Fields have been making music together for almost 20 years and they have their sound down pat. Their ninth studio album, "Realism," is the end of their “no synth” trilogy in that it follows their previous albums, "i" and "Distortion." "Realism" is full of hits and misses; the few songs that are worth listening to don’t make up for the fact that many of them are down right bad.

All of "Realism" can’t be discounted because the tracks “You Must Be Out of Your Mind” and “From a Sinking Boat” demonstrate that the Magnetic Fields have great talent when they want to show it off. “Always Already Gone” isn’t bad either--the group effort the band shows when they really want to make something great comes through. The harmonization and full sound they create on “You Must Be Out of Your Mind” make it the best song on the album and one that definitely is worth listening to over again.

Where the album falters are with the songs “Doll’s Tea Party,” “Everything is One Big Christmas Tree” and “Painted Flower.” Singer Claudia Gonson has an extremely distinctive voice that is not being used to its best abilities here. The lyrics are childish and silly.  Also, the actual music is often too thin, thus making Gonson’s voice do most of the work.  Worse, the over use of a xylophone make them sound like elementary school music class songs. These songs would be better suited on a children’s album than on something like this, particularly given that the band had proved that they can do great things.  Listeners expect better.

When looked at as whole, "Realism" is one of those albums that seems like a work in progress. Many of the songs have a bare-bones feeling about them that makes them sound as though the band wasn't finished with them yet. These aren’t necessarily bad songs, but they do leave the listener wanting more.

The Magnetic Fields have proved their talent. They have proved that they are a band people want to listen to, and that their individual artistic sensibilities mesh well to create beautiful music. Yet, when it comes down to it, "Realism" doesn’t prove what they are capable of. Groups are ever evolving and for the past four years, the Magnetic Fields have been working on a “no synth” movement.  Let’s just hope that when they finally return to the synth, the Magnetic Fields go back to a more mature sound.

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