Hot Disc: The Magnetic Fields, Realism

Always experimenting, but consistently sincere, you can always trust The Magnetic Fields aren’t just playing a one off. In the past they pulled out all the stops on 69 Love Songs, an album so comprehensive it spread across three discs and many, many inconsolable hours of your life. Then came Distortion, a much different tune, paying homage to shoegaze drone-fuzz and the Jesus and Mary Chain. Now on Realism, The Magnetic Fields’ third Nonesuch release, singer-songwriter Stephin Merritt takes the band into ersatz production on what is ostensibly a variety-folk concept album.

What Merritt calls a “kaleidoscopic approach to a genre”—late ’60s and early ’70s British folk—Realism tips its hat to the Judy Collinses and Vashti Bunyans it unabashedly channels. A self-conscious emulation, Realism sustains itself by touching on as many folk styles as possible. Merritt sings through a Leonard Cohen bellow on “Walk A Lonely Road,” writes with fairytale simplicity on the Bunyan-inspired “The Dolls’ Tea Party” and jangles through roots folk jamborees on tunes like “We Are Having a Hootenanny Now.”

Speaking to the variety folk genre Merritt says it were “as if the world were put on one record, where you have absolutely no idea what’s coming next.” This is where Realism succeeds. And with flugelhorns, banjos and cuatros, small orchestration, and the usual suspects, the aesthetic is pulled off with ease.

Somewhere between its sardonic lyrics and spot-on compositions, the album finds its sincerity. Never taking itself too seriously, Realism lets you fall for into its posturing and enjoy an overall warmth and adulation.

Realism isn’t set for release January 26, but is available for pre-order and streaming at Nonesuch’s website (nonesuch.com/albums/realism).