The Magnetic Fields, "Realism"

82 Billboard Rating

The Magnetic Fields' latest studio album, "Realism," is the final--and most convincing--installment of the band's "no synth" trilogy, which began in 2004 with "i." On the new set, Magnetic Fields founder Stephin Merritt continues to move away from the band's usual dependence on effects to explore the innards of folk without using electric instruments. Merritt and his troupe mostly succeed in achieving a natural sound on "Realism," but the results are sometimes shaky. With lyrics like "Do-si-do down/To our hoedown/Our rootin'-tootin' hootenanny," the song "We Are Having a Hootenanny" straddles the line between playful and ridiculous. But the alluring tracks "I Don't Know What to Say" and "Better Things" find the band inching back toward its comfort zone--Merritt's songwriting thrives, and nontraditional percussion like the tabla and tree leaves satiate the need for unusual sounds. Ultimately, the electronic-free approach on the closer of the trilogy results in the Magnetic Fields' most organic effort to date--and it doesn't stray too far from Merritt's pop-leaning background, making it the most successful of its synth-free siblings.--Lindsey Fortier

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