The Magnetic Fields — ‘Quickies’
THE GOOD: American indie outfit Magnetic Fields (singer/songwriter Stephin Merritt and his band of merry pranksters) returns with its 12th.
THE BAD: “Quickies” comes with a gimmick that sometimes confines Merritt’s brilliance.
THE NITTY GRITTY: In 2017, the group gave us the concept album “50 Song Memoir,” a sprawling collection of 50 tracks, each one representing a year of Merritt’s life. “Quickies” is either that record’s exact opposite or a strange companion piece. Here we have 28 songs, the longest clocking in at two-and-a-half minutes, the shortest a succinct 17 seconds. It sounds like a typical MF collection, although the arrangements are stripped down to their bare essence and the melodies are very direct (no time for complexities here).
Merritt is his usual brand of cleverness, delivering satirical, humorous and even strangely morbid songs. Most of them work, but the failed experiments aren’t long enough to crash the album. I only wish some of these ideas were more fully realized, the music benefitting from not having to fit predetermined time constraints.
BUY IT?: Your choice.
Declan Mckenna — ‘Zeros’
THE GOOD: British singer/songwriter Declan McKenna dodges the sophomore slump.
THE BAD: Not much.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Upon the release of his 2017 debut, then-18-year-old McKenna was hailed as a modern rock boy wonder, and rightfully so. “What Do You Think About the Car” was far from perfect, but the record made it clear the guy already had a distinct voice, style and wisdom beyond his years. Now “Zeros” finds McKenna progressing at a logical pace as he plows through his early 20s. It’s a concept album and cautionary tale about the end of days, leaving Earth and traveling through space. Of course, sci-fi influences run through the work. Musically, we’re given straightforward rock sprinkled with bits of glam and flashes of prog.
Tracks such as “The Key to Life on Earth” and “Emily” draw us in with big melodies and whirling arrangements, a majestic opposite to the sometimes bleak lyrical content. The entire affair is much grander in scope and leaves us wondering where he’ll go next.
BUY IT?: Sure.
Surfer Blood — ‘Carefree Theater’
THE GOOD: Florida indie rockers Surfer Blood push forward with their sixth.
THE BAD: “Carefree Theater” takes a little while to find its stride. But once it does, the band proves it’s back.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Surfer Blood has had a rough history. In 2012, frontman John Paul Pitts alienated a lot of fans after being arrested for domestic battery (all charges were later dropped). A few years after that, original guitarist Thomas Fekete succumbed to stomach cancer. But Surfer Blood is forging ahead, and “Theater” is a step in the right direction.
Taking its title from an historic theater in the band’s hometown of West Palm Beach, the album is steeped in the Surfer Blood tradition — that is, catchy guitar rock with just the right amount of melodrama to embolden the big melodies. Tracks such as “In My Mind,” “Summer Trope” and the title cut ride the perfect amount of sway and swagger. Electric guitars clash with grace. The whole concoction is … what’s the word … oh yeah: carefree.
BUY IT?: Yes.