The Magnetic Fields, "Realism" (Nonesuch)
Release Date: January 26, 2010
"Realism" is the sonic counterweight to the Magnetic Fields' heavily feedbacked 2008 set, "Distortion." On the band's ninth album, "we have an exaggeratedly realistic production style," singer/songwriter Stephin Merritt says. That means crystal-clear, all-acoustic instruments including ukulele, guitar, harp, tuba, orchestral strings, penny whistles, hammered dulcimers and even leaves (to produce a "rustle," Merritt says). The result falls somewhere between the Beach Boys and "A Mighty Wind." "I wanted to have as varied a style as possible within the general rubric of folk," Merritt says. In some cases, that meant plucking backing tracks recorded years ago, or recording an entire song, "From a Sinking Boat," in the bathroom for what Merritt calls "that watery feel." The journey is punctuated by his usual cheeky lyrics ("I could say I love you/That would be a bore/Maybe in a font you've never seen before"). The first 250 "Realism" buyers at the Nonesuch online store will get a silkscreened poster signed by Merritt; a vinyl release comes with a CD of the album. CDs and LPs at the Nonesuch store also come with MP3s for download on release day. Look for the Magnetic Fields on a 19-date tour between Feb. 4 and March 11; Merritt and collaborators Johnny Blood and Daniel Handler will also perform a live score to the 1916 silent film "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" at San Francisco's Castro Theatre.