Morbidly Beautiful

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For part two of my crash course in creepy with The Magnetic Fields, here are 12 more beautifully twisted songs from the band’s last six studio albums.

Last week, I introduced you to my favorite spooky sounds from the first six studio albums from The Magnetic Fields. This week, I share more of my favorites from their 2004 release “I” to their latest album, “Quickies”.

As before, each studio album gets two songs — one chosen track and an honorable mention. My hope is to introduce you to one of my favorite bands that is woefully undiscovered and give you a great jumping off point to hopefully fall in love with their unique, hauntingly beautiful sound.

2004: I – “I Wish I Had an Evil Twin”

An unloading of good, evil, and the space in-between, this track details a good man’s wish that he’d been born with an evil twin — both so he can live vicariously through him and so he can reap the benefits of his brothers’ victims thinking they were one and the same. “He’d send the pretty ones to me/And they would think that I was he. I’d hurt them, and I’d go scot-freee  —-.”    It calls to mind a sort of Dead Ringer situation — one twin yearning for the life of excess and evil the other has because they’ve spent their hole life being good. The big lynchpin here though is that, at the end of the day, there is no evil twin. The main character of the song just wants to be evil.

Honorable Mention – “Infinitely Late at Night”

This one just reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode “I Am the Night – Color Me Black”, where the sky is pitch black because of the atrocities (racial and otherwise) done by people to each other. It also just seems like a deep episode of disassociation.

2008: Distortion – “Zombie Boy”

It’s literally a song about a guy bringing back a man back as a zombie to act as his boyfriend. It’s a gross song, but it certainly works as a scary track and the distortion that’s so heavy in all of the album – hence the name – works especially well on this song.

Honorable Mention – “California Girls”

Not the cover of “California Girls” you might have expected, this ode to destroying pretty and popular girls seems like something that’d slide perfectly into something like Riverdale or Degrassi. It ends with the unpopular singer literally taking a battleaxe to these other girls the way Carrie takes her powers to her entire school. While less openly scary than “Zombie Boy”, there’s still an edge to it. I honestly love this album, even if the scary songs don’t need too much digging into.

2010: Realism – “From A Sinking Boat”

Honestly, Realism is one of the softer albums in the Magnetic Fields oeuvre. It’s mostly just sillier, sweeter songs. You can’t really find much scary stuff here. “From A Sinking Boat” was picked because it actually employs death and implies that the singer is performing from beyond the grave. Otherwise, it’s just a very melancholy track.

Honorable Mention – “The Dolls’ Tea Party”

Besides giving us a chance to hear the vocals of Magnetic Fields’ drummer/manager Claudia Gonson, this song honestly just gives me big Stepford Wives vibes. “We prattle and tattle on who’s done whom wrong: on who’s in, who’s out, and who’s best at mah-jongg. Oh, and where to buy fabulous things for a song.” It just seems very catty and very fancy, and that just makes me think of the Stepford Wives – like this is their only escape and only real joy.

2012: Love at the Bottom of the Sea “Your Girlfriend’s Face”

A return to the synths the band loved so dearly back in the 90s after the so-called “no synth” trilogy comprised of the three albums above, this album also marked a return to some of their more openly gory sensibilities. This track is the absolute best example, featuring Shirley Simms’s delightfully droll singing about a person hiring a hitman for two killings — the blowing off of her ex’s girlfriend’s face, and her ex’s own death. How do they get to die? Being buried alive while on crystal meth. That’s what I’m talking about — that’s the really creepy stuff! It also helps that the music is still so bouncy and danceable despite it being literally about hired killing.

Honorable Mention – “The Horrible Party”

This isn’t nearly as scary as “Your Girlfriend’s Face” but you do get to see what I picture as a 1920s version of Society-esque debauchery. I want to know the horrible, weird things the plastic surgeon did to Jane’s face that made her so popular, and I want to know what they were doing with mink stoles. I can only imagine it must have been wild.

2017: 50 Song Memoir “ ’04: Cold-Blooded Man”

The driving theme of this record is that this is meant to be a sort of musical diary for every year of Stephin Merritt’s life, hence the name 50 Song Memoir.  In the record, he goes into sing-song detail about his tumultuous relationship with his parents, his controversies, his weird diseases and even weirder loves. This song, however, deals with what sounds like an abusive relationship. While Merritt’s own talk about this song is more about his bitterness with a lover who left him for one of his students, it’s easy to translate the content of this song to an abuse situation. Even sadder, it’s sort of a counterpoint to one of the few genuine love songs on 69 Love Songs, “Sweet Lovin’ Man”.

Honorable Mention – “ ’70: They’re Killing Children Over There”

A retelling of a five-year-old Stephin’s experience seeing Jefferson Airplane live and watching Grace Slick protest the Vietnam War by reminding her audience that they were still killing children overseas. On the other side of the war, with the United States still embroiled up to the throat in bloodshed overseas and on our own soil, the song remains haunting. They’re still killing children over there — and they’re still killing children over here, too.

2020: Quickies – “You’ve Got A Friend In Beelzebub”

Probably the grimmest sounding track on this extremely quick album (all songs are under three minutes), this song employs sparse piano and strange, whining electronics and strings to back Claudia Gonson’s voice as she sings of someone’s friendly relationship with the devil himself. There’s another layer of strange fear added by the fact that it cuts off after the line “Letters you’ve penned to Beelzebub have brought civilizations to dust.” Nothing more, just that line.

Honorable Mention – “The Day the Politicians Died”

Another Gonson sung track, this one also has sparse piano – detailing mass death and the eating of priests with a smile. “Even their own mothers, their own husbands and wives, said ‘Now all men are brothers, let’s get on with our lives.’. “ It’s a simple track, but it’s still wild.

That’s part of why I love the Magnetic Fields so much: no matter how sparse or lush their instrumentations or vocals or lyrics are, they’re almost always guaranteed to be weird.

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