November 16 — “Please Stop Dancing” by The Magnetic Fields

The Magnetic Fields

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Please Stop Dancing” by The Magnetic Fields (2008, from the album Distortion).

The Magnetic Fields is an indie pop band that formed in Boston in 1989. Since 1991, they’ve released ten studio albums including the mammoth 1999 three-volume set 69 Love Songs. They used to call New York City home, and I think they still do, officially. However, front man Stephin Merritt has been living in Los Angeles since at least 2008. The rest of the band, as far as I know, still live in New York. This makes rehearsing and collaborating pretty difficult. Let’s be real, though. Even though there are other performers on the records and in concert, and even though Claudia Gonson has been on board since day one, Magnetic Fields is not a collaborative effort. Stephin Merritt is the supreme executive power of The Magnetic Fields.

They’ve recorded three albums since Merritt fled the east coast including a new one this year (Love At The Bottom of The Sea).

Tonight’s song comes from the album Distortion, which was inspired by the seminal album Psychocandy by The Jesus And Mary Chain. Distortion is very unusual because most of the other albums are sort of folky, or even country-themed (see: Charm of The Highway Strip (1994)) This one has a lot of electric guitar and a lot of effects. Not really what people think of when they think “Magnetic Fields”. It was the first album the band recorded since their geographic split, and it was the second in a “no synths” trilogy. The first in that trilogy was the bizarre 2004 album I. That album has 14 songs, and the title of each song starts with the letter I. Also, the songs are in alphabetical order.

Distortion was the second in that trilogy, and to make things even trickier, it was meant to be the first of a contrasting pair of albums. The final album in the trilogy and the opposite pairing for Distortion was the 2010 album Realism. That album is (almost) entirely acoustic, and is absolutely meant as a response to Distortion. Both in title and in substance. Even the album artwork suggests that they’re an opposite pair.

Distortion

Realism

This year, they returned to using synths, but they have another trick up their sleeve. The new one has 14 songs, and they’re all shorter than 2:40. That’s just a bit of trivia, though.

Tonight’s song isn’t my favorite Magnetic Fields song. I can’t possibly pick which is my favorite. The whole of Charm of The Highway Strip and the better part of Volumes 1 and 2 of 69 Love Songs. Pick any song from that lot, and I’ll say that it’s among my favorite. I’m picking tonight’s song simply because it’s not from that lot and because I really like that album (but not as much as Charm…).

Anyway, without further ado, here’s tonight’s song:
“Please Stop Dancing” by The Magnetic Fields

I love the squawky feedback that persists throughout the entire album, really. It’s a simple song. Heartache and heartbreak. It’s full of all that “love can break your heart” and “I’m never going to get over it” imagery that runs through just about half of 69 Love Songs. And now that I’ve brought that up, I’ve always had “I Don’t Want To Get Over You” high on my list of favorite Magnetic Fields songs. It’s as simple as that, though. The ex-lover(or the memory of the ex-lover) never goes away completely, and it’s frustrating as all hell.

I like that it starts with Claudia’s voice. For narrative sake, the song doesn’t need two voices, but I like that she kicks it off. There’s nothing special about the vocal harmonies, and the rest of it is just Stephin Merritt doing his Stephin Merritt thing.

Apart from the feedback and the JAMC-esque drums, I really like the bass line. It’s crazily catchy. And it stands out more than a bass line normally stands out in a Magnetic Fields song.

While the bulk of The Magnetic Fields catalog is on the North Carolina-based Merge Records, the “no-synth” trilogy is on Nonesuch Records (a Warner Brothers sub-label). Order Distortion here.

About dlee

North Carolina born and bred. I'm a restaurant guy who spends free time listening to music, watching hockey and playing Scrabble. I have a bachelor's degree in political science and I will most likely never put it to use. View all posts by dlee

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