The Magnetic Fields i

[Nonesuch; 2004]

Styles: lo-fi, indie rock
Others: The 6ths, Gothic Archies, Future Bible Heroes, Yo La Tengo, Superchunk

The Magnetic Fields first proper album since 1999's triple-disc opus 69 Love Songs comes with a certain amount of mystery. After five albums of increasingly layered keyboard pop, 69 Love Songs seemed to tackle any musical style and instrumentation songwriter Stephin Merrit could think of. With only The 6ths (a Merrit side-project) releasing a very stripped down, mainly acoustic album a year later, and a handful of new soundtrack songs appearing in the last five years, the direction the Magnetic Fields would follow after a three disc box set up was very intriguing.

The new album, i, is a manageable 14 songs, with all the songs beginning with the letter "i" and then arranged in alphabetical order. The album's songs are limited to solely hand played/non-keyboard instruments for the first time, sounding slightly like the last 6th's album but much more fleshed out. In fact, it's apparent that a lot of time was spent arranging the songs, as they're steps above the simplicity of 69 Love Songs and benefit from the live band feel that real instrumentation brings.

As far as songwriting goes, i follows the typical Magnetic Fields album standard of several great songs balanced with a couple unremarkable ones, with the rest being simply really good. "I Don't Believe in You" sounds much livelier than its earlier, synthetic 7-inch version, while "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend" is one of Merrit's best "dance" songs since "You and Me and the Moon." Even the most average songs on the album have a memorable line or two.

The biggest problem with i is the whole idea behind it. By putting the album in alphabetical order, most of the weaker, mundane songs end up in the second half and the record begins to trail off at the end. While Merrit seems to enjoy the songwriting challenge provided by album-length concepts, i might have benefited from a little less adherence to conceptual principal.

1. I Die
2. I Don't Believe You
3. I Don't Really Love You Anymore
4. I Looked All Over Town
5. I Thought You Were My Boyfriend
6. I Was Born
7. I Wish I Had an Evil Twin
8. If There's Such a Thing as Love
9. I'm Tongue-Tied
10. In an Operetta
11. Infinitely Late at Night
12. Irma
13. Is This What They Used to Call Love?
14. It's Only Time