Under Review: Stephin Merritt – Obscurities

The brains (and often voice) behind innumerable musical projects, Stephin Merritt is the model candidate for a career-spanning anthology. Then again, Merritt is the textbook antonym of traditional musician’s trajectory. Even his most prominent creative outlet, The Magnetic Fields, has evolved dramatically from album to album, making the group an ever-shifting experiment in contrast and change. Rather than examine his own past through already released material, Merritt has unearthed a collection of B-sides, unused takes and other oddities as Obscurities, a rare release credited to Merritt’s own name. Though many of these songs were left off of albums by The Magnetic Fields, The 6ths and others, the overall quality of the set is unsurprisingly high. Grounding the album with some familiarity are alternate versions of i’s “I Don’t Believe You,” which gets an early Magnetic Fields-styled synth makeover, and Holiday’s “Take Ecstasy With Me,” this time with vocals from longtime member Shirley Simms. For the rest of the album, the various sides of Stephin Merritt are given ample time in the spotlight.

The heavy amount of electronics on Obscurities suggests that most of the tracks are culled from the earlier parts of Merritt’s recording days. The blaring and blurting of “Rats In The Garbage Of The Western World,” an early Magnetic Fields track, sounds miles away from the elegant arrangements of last year’s Realism. The dense new wave of “Scream (Till You Make The Scene),” one of a few heretofore unreleased cuts, sounds like it would’ve been at home on a record by Merritt’s dormant Future Bible Heroes. One of the earliest songs on Obscurities is “Plant White Roses,” another Simms-led track from the pre-Magnetic Fields group Buffalo Rome. What’s remarkable about Obscurities is that is shows just how fully developed Merritt’s style has been since day one. There’s no denying that, even in an assortment of leftovers, Merritt pours his heart and soul into each and every song. That’s the mark of a truly dedicated artist.

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~ by E. on August 31, 2011.

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