|The Magnetic Fields
||The Wayward Bus / Distant Plastic Trees
The Magnetic Fields — The Wayward Bus / Distant Plastic Trees (Reissue, 2 DEC 2016)≡★≡ A PAIR OF SHARP, WIDE~RANGING, AND PLAYFUL ALBUMS GET THE REISSUE TREATMENT ON VINYL.
≡★≡ Lead vocals on the album Distant Plastic Trees are performed by Susan Anway.
≡★≡ Cabaret meets indie rock in the one~man~band known as singer~songwriter Stephin Merritt.
Birth name: Stephen Raymond Merritt
Born: February 9, 1965
Location: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Album release: January 23, 1995 / 2 DEC 2016 + 1991
Record Label: PoPuP, Victor, Red Flame / Merge
The Wayward Bus
01. When You Were My Baby 2:42
02. The Saddest Story Ever Told 2:13
03. Lovers From The Moon 2:53
04. Candy 2:33
05. Tokyo A Go~Go 3:13
06. Summer Lies 2:59
07. Old Orchard Beach 2:55
08. Jeremy 3:01
09. Dancing In Your Eyes 2:57
10. Suddenly There Is A Tidal Wave 3:19
Distant Plastic Trees
11. Railroad Boy 3:00
12. Smoke Signals 3:29
13. You Love To Fail 2:30
14. Kings 2:15
15. Babies Falling 3:19
16. Living In An Abandoned Firehouse With You 3:59
17. Tar~Heel Boy 2:26
18. Falling In Love With The Wolfboy 4:06
19. Josephine 3:08
20. 100,000 Fireflies 3:20
÷ Sam Davol — Cello (tracks: A1 to B10)
÷ Wendy Smith — Cover [Album Cover]
÷ Claudia Gonson — Drums [Cocktail Drums] (tracks: A1 to B10)
÷ Ken Michaels — Engineer (tracks: C1 to D5)
÷ James Bryan — Mixed (tracks: C1 to D10)
÷ Stephin Merritt — Performer (tracks: A1 to B10)
÷ Art Daly — Photography [Sleeve Photo]
÷ Jeff Lipton — Remastered
÷ Maria Rice — Remastered [Assistant Mastering Engineer]
÷ Stephin Merritt — Songwriter (tracks: A1 to C4, D6 to D10)
÷ Johny Blood — Tuba, Horns (tracks: A1 to B10)
÷ Susan Anway — Vocals
Origin disc The Wayward Bus:
01. When You Were My Baby 2:43
02. The Saddest Story Ever Told 2:12
03. Lovers from the Moon 2:52
04. Candy 2:32
05. Tokyo à Go~Go 3:12
06. Summer Lies 2:59
07. Old Orchard Beach 2:54
08. Jeremy 3:01
09. Dancing in Your Eyes 2:56
10. Suddenly There Is a Tidal Wave 3:18
÷ All tracks written by Stephin Merritt.
÷ Stephin Merritt — songwriting, instrumentation and production
÷ Claudia Gonson — cocktail drums
÷ Sam Davol — cello
÷ Susan Anway — vocals
÷ Johny Blood — tuba, horns
÷ Wendy Smith — album cover Origin disc Distant Plastic Trees:
01. Railroad Boy 2:59
02. Smoke Signals 3:28
03. You Love to Fail 2:30
04. Kings 2:15
05. Babies Falling 3:18
06. Living in an Abandoned Firehouse with You 3:58
07. Tar~Heel Boy 2:26
08. Falling in Love with the Wolfboy 4:05
09. Josephine 3:08
10. 100,000 Fireflies 3:20
11. Plant White Roses 4:52
★ Stephin Merritt — songwriting, instrumentation and production
★ Susan Anway — lead vocals
★ Ken Michaels — engineering
★ Wendy Smith — album cover
★ Art Daly — insert photo
★ Stephin Merritt 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11
★ Steve Gregoropoulos, Fran Miller, Justin Burrill 5/2
★ Merritt, John Gage, Genève Gil 6/2
The Wayward Bus [PoPuP, 1992]
≡★≡ In this Amerindie version of the Eurythmics, Stephin Merritt pulls Susan Anway’s strings: where Annie would belt these metronomic tunes all the way to Vegas, Anway trills them in a sweet monotone and is grateful she can manage that. She’s proud to play the puppet, which is a good thing because synthere thongwriter Merritt would drop her if she wasn’t. First time out the literary brilliance of his doggerel lapped over into an obscurity his crude sonic eccentricities sometimes rendered unlistenable. Here he’s learned to mesh straight pop parodies with well~turned, thought~through, not~quite~representational lyrics in which Anway usually plays a guy. Many are just mildly subversive love songs. But my favorite is so flat~out campy it could have been inspired by a Man From U.N.C.L.E. rerun. B+
BY ROB CALDWELL, 21 December 2016 / Score: 8
≡★≡ Stephin Merritt is, above all, a unique and adventurous songsmith. He entertains in a variety of ways, including clever lyric wordplay like “I gave you all the best years of my life / And half the worst / I pine and wane, pal and wan” (“Summer Lies”) or having a female lead singer sing songs from a male viewpoint (“Candy”, “Josephine”), or referencing older musical styles such as ‘60s Girl Group and Baroque Pop and making them sound contemporary, or releasing a three volume genre~jumping song collection called 69 Love Songs, not about love, but about love songs themselves. He’s also so prolific that he’s recorded under four different band names, as well as his own name.
≡★≡ The Magnetic Fields, though, is his main gig and he began his career more than 25 years ago with a pair of sharp, wide~ranging, and playful releases issued under that name at the height of grunge. Distant Plastic Trees (1991) and The Wayward Bus (1992) were almost in direct opposition to that genre, but to a certain breed of listener, these two albums were (and remain) bright strokes on the popular music canvas. Paired as one release since 1994, Merge has reissued them for the first time on vinyl. They’ve been remastered, and the humorous watercolor cover art by Wendy Smith benefits greatly from the larger 12~inch format. In one, a couple sits on a bench in a pastoral landscape. Yet, as the title tells us, the distant trees are plastic, this idyllic scene an artifice. The cover of The Wayward Bus pictures a couple having a picnic in a similar landscape, unaware they’re about to be smacked by the bus coming around the bend.
≡★≡ The same mood is echoed in the music. There’s a fair amount of sadness in these songs about love, but things never get morose. Rather, irony and fatalistic humor are the order of the day, as lines such as “I have a mandolin / I play it all night long / It makes me want to kill myself” in college~radio single “100,000 Fireflies” (later covered by Superchunk) keep things offbeat.
≡★≡ While both albums are credited to the Magnetic Fields, Distant Plastic Trees is actually a Merritt solo album, with the exception of lead vocals by Susan Anway. Her deadpan, coolly detached voice has just enough warmth to give the songs extra emotive depth to balance the often mechanized musical underpinnings. Not that Merritt’s reliance on synthesizer is without soul and humanity — he’s a master of creating sounds that don’t sound dated or overly artificial. Songs such as “Old Orchard Beach” feature crickets and marimbas, while another, “Babies Falling”, is ornamented in bubble sounds and chimes.
≡★≡ The production on both albums sometimes falls on the lo~fi side of things, though parts of The Wayward Bus are highly influenced by Phil Spector and, to a lesser degree, Brian Wilson. Merritt has their styles down, though songs such as “Candy” beg for a bigger wall of sound treatment, further emphasizing the drums and tambourine to bring them more in line with their Spector~esque ambitions.
≡★≡ On Wayward Bus, he brought in more outside musicians and so began the development of what would become the Magnetic Fields on future albums. Yet, these guests perform on cello, tuba and cocktail drums — not the standard instruments for a rock/pop band. This idiosyncrasy results in both albums sharing a similar feel, as sounds Merritt might have generated with a synthesizer on Distant Plastic Trees are still there, but produced by their real, acoustic counterparts. Anway sings again on The Wayward Bus, though Merritt takes over lead vocal duties for all subsequent Magnetic Fields releases, making these two albums especially unique in the group’s discography.
≡★≡ The reissues have no bonus tracks, no historical essay, but they don’t really need that additional ornamentation. They stand on their own, fully able to be appreciated for the smart pop classics they are.
Notes: Rob Caldwell is a writer and librarian living near Toronto. He has written for various online publications, including The Allmusic Guide, All About Jazz, and No Depression music magazine. ≡★≡ http://www.popmatters.com/
Written By Jim Beviglia // May 16, 2017
≡★≡ The Magnetic Fields are the music of songwriter~ producer~instrumentalist Stephin Merritt, who lives and records in New York City. Adept at computer music programming and production, Merritt records his own albums and plays almost everything on them with help from cellist Sam Davol, banjo player/second guitarist John Woo, percussionist/pianist Claudia Gonson, and singer Shirley Simms.
≡★≡ Merritt’s first two CD’s, “The Wayward Bus” and “Distant Plastic Trees”, came out in 1991 and 1992 with singer Susan Anway, formerly of the early 80’s Boston punk band “V.” The album included the early~90’s college radio single, “100,000 Fireflies,” which first appeared as a single on Harriet Records.
≡★≡ When Susan Anway decided to relocate to Arizona, Stephin Merritt took up the vocal duties and remains the singer of The Magnetic Fields, along with Shirley Simms, who has been sharing the vocal duties with Stephin since 2008’s “Distortion”. In the early 90’s the band released several vinyl seven~inch singles, including “Long Vermont Roads” (Harriet Recs) and “The House Of Tomorrow~EP” (Merge), which is now available on CD.
≡★≡ The Magnetic Fields released six full~length albums in the 90’s, all on Merge Records. They then released three albums over the following decade on Nonesuch Records. In 2012, they returned to Merge for their most recent album release, “Love at the Bottom of the Sea.”
≡★≡ The early full~length albums on Merge helped define Merritt’s style of seamlessly combining electronic and acoustic instrumentation. These albums were largely performed by Merritt himself with little outside involvement. “The Charm of the Highway Strip” (1994) was an electro~country meditation on life on the open road. “Holiday (1994) carried a more euro~pop sound, with songs about escape and nightlife. “Get Lost” (1995) was a mixture of styles and moods, including the intimate cabaret sound of “With Whom to Dance?”
≡★≡ In 1999, the Magnetic Fields surged into the mainstream when Merritt penned his virtuosic 3~disc set, “69 Love Songs.” Conceived originally as a cabaret song cycle for the stage, Merritt set out to write 69 love songs using most of the known popular music styles, from punk to country to soul and jazz. The album earned top~10 kudos from most major publications, and has since sold 130,000 copies worldwide. Although Merritt was the primary singer on the album, “69 Love Songs” also featured vocals by pianist Claudia Gonson, LD Beghtol, Dudley Klute, and Shirley Simms. The album included instrumental contributions of Future Bible Heroes instrumentalist Chris Ewen, and novelist Daniel Handler on accordion.
≡★≡ In 2002, The Magnetic Fields signed a worldwide record deal with Nonesuch Records (Warner Brothers). For the three albums that followed; “i” in 2004, “Distortion” in 2008 and “Realism” in 2010, Merritt decided to record using only acoustic instrumentation, and no electronic sounds. He called this his “no~synth trilogy,” and continued his long~standing tradition of recording using an array of both eclectic and mainstream instruments, from slinky to zither to gong to bouzouki to hammer dulcimer to the sound of leaves rustling.
≡★≡ The Magnetic Fields released “Love at the Bottom of the Sea” in February of 2012 and toured throughout the States and Europe. Currently, Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields are at work on a new record, planned for release in 2016.
|The Magnetic Fields
||The Wayward Bus / Distant Plastic Trees