Synth Vets Stumble on Overthought Oldies

The Magnetic Fields

Realism

Nonesuch

With the release of their tenth album, the Magnetic Fields dig up synth-pop roots to embrace a more earthy theme. Unfortunately, their new hokey folk lacks the tradition to ring true.

Mostly acoustic, the album is a thoughtful hodgepodge of various types of country, filled with vocalist Stephen Meritt’s semi-witty musings. Tracks like “We Are Having A Hootenanny” make us wonder whether the album was recorded on the set of “Oklahoma!”, while the melodic, plucked-key “The Dolls’ Tea Party” reminds us of our favorite (or most-hated) nursery rhyme.

The collection of slow mountain ballads starts out promising, reminiscent of Paul Simon and Conor Oberst, but slowly veer sinto an attempt at intellectual complication — one that’s just plain nonsensical on “You Must Be Out of Your Mind.” (“I want you crawling back to me down on your knees, yeah/ Like an appendectomy sans anesthesia.”)

High points are whenever twangy country instruments — including specimen like the banjo, accordion and autoharp — make an appearance on the track. Our ears perk at Beach Boy throwback “The Dada Polka,” one of the record’s few playfully upbeat numbers. But the dapper beach ballad goes sour next to the Fields’ overambitious hillbilly experiment.

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