The Magnetic Fields: because nobody else does hilarious, cranky, sweet, biting, romantic songs like Stephin Merritt (vocals/ukelele/harmonioum/keyboard) and his merry crew, aka Claudia Gonson (vocals/percussion/piano), Sam Davol (cello/flute), John Woo (banjo/guitar) and Shirley Simms (vocals/autoharp/ukelele).
For example, Andrew in Drag, from their latest record, Love at the Bottom of the Sea. It’s been stuck in my head for weeks and so now I’m going to share it with you, so I won’t be the only one singing the chorus under my breath at random and inappropriate times. (Note: contains nudity, may be unsafe for work!)
This one is called With Whom To Dance and every time I listen to it, I observe, wistfully, that really as far as I’m concerned the only wretched part of being single is not having anyone to slow dance with at weddings. You know? Everyone else gets up to sway and spin and there I am perched on the edge of my chair feeling kind of lonely and awkward about everything. Thank you for capturing that emotion in song, Mr. Merritt!
Dipping into their back catalog a little bit, here’s a live version of Drive on Driver from Distortion, the record I had on repeat for basically the four months of 2008:
If I ever get a tattoo, it will probably include the phrase characters bold complex and shady will write my memoirs across my heart, which is a lyric from this song, which is The Nun’s Litany, also from Distortion, here performed live in Oslo in 2008:
In the category of The Best Kiss-off to an Ex Ever, there’s You Must Be Out Of Your Mind from Realism, live in St. Louis in 2010. Ideal to leave on the answering machine of someone you really, really don’t ever want to go out with again.
And from 69 Love Songs, their three volume concept about love songs, here is All My Little Words, a song about being wordy but still powerless, performed live in North Carolina, in 2008:
Also from 69 Love Songs: The Book of Love, which has been covered by acts as diverse as The Airborne Toxic Event and Peter Gabriel. Seriously, click on those links and watch those videos. Y’all have not lived until you have heard Airborne Toxic Event perform a delicate chamber-pop song and Peter Gabriel aim himself, his voice and an entire orchestra at Stephin Merritt’s wry, reflective lyrics. Here is Mr. Merritt himself singing it in Los Angeles in 2008:
And then, I bring you back to the present with Quick, also from Love at the Bottom of the Sea, live in Chicago during their most recent tour:
In conclusion: some photographs from their show that I went to a few weeks ago, here in New York, at the Beacon Theater.
The Magnetic Fields were as delightful as ever – at one point Stephin Merritt did an amazing dramatic reading of a stray gum wrapper that had made its way to the stage, and I decided that “I would listen to him/her/them read me a gum wrapper” is going to replace “sing me the phonebook” as my personal term of ridiculous fannish devotion – and DeVotchKa, who opened for them, did an exquisite acoustic set.