Stephin Merritt – Obscurities

Rating: ★★★ · ·

For some, Stephin Merritt probably ties into their lives at every corner, as he seems to craft brilliant tunes at almost every turn.  Yet, despite his work with Magnetic Fields, the 6ths, and various other projects, he remains largely a cult hero to most, and an oddball to dissenters.  That being said, fans of his work will probably find endless enjoyment in Obscurities, while other will, sadly, continue to look the other way.

“Forever and a Day” begins the record as only Stephin can, offering up a solemn bit of ukulele, meant to accompany many on their way to the altar.  It’s easily one of the standouts on this collection, demonstrating how delicate his songwriting can be.  If you wished for someone to write the perfect love song for you, the odds are Merritt has it stored away somewhere.  Even those longing for the love of nature will find their needs met with “The Sun and the Sea and the Sky,” an ode to the remarkable powers of the environment to shine into our lives.

Perhaps one of the things that has kept the masses from adoring Stephin Merritt is his tendency to amuse himself with either his writing or his instrumentation.  Take, “When I’m Not Looking, You’re Not There,” for instance, which seems to have sort of a glitch approach to Merritt’s typical construction, filled with beeps and blips, oddly uniting to fit the song’s goals.  Even the touches used on the out-of print 7″ track ” I Don’t Believe You” seem to disjoint the song, but I suppose that my own love of the later version that appeared on I, which is one of my favorite works by The Magnetic Fields.

Still, even when he’s crafting mock numbers, such as “Plant White Roses,” which alludes to the works of Patsy Cline, he’s successful.  Yes, there’s a female vocal here, but Merritt’s always employed that touch in parts on his work, so it truly is the crafty melody that warms you over.  Or you can take a look a listen to “Rot in the Sun,” just to see what he’s been able to accomplish, using electronic sounds oddly reminiscent of “Eye” by Smashing Pumpkins.  For me, it illustrates his ability to start somewhere, either a bar or his bedroom, using the melody to build the song, and using whichever instrument fits the melody the best.

In the end, Obscurities, is definitely a collection piece.  It’s not nearly as thematically cohesive as the majority of his work tends to be, so this, in my opinion, is not the place to start your love affair with Stephin Merritt.  However, those who adore him will find pleasant things, was nostalgic, and revisit his entire collection.  Merritt’s one of those musicians who you can’t ignore, and even here, on a haphazard collection, you’ll find him sinking beneath your skin, finding his way to your heart.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Stephin-Merritt-Forever-And-A-Day.mp3]

Download: Stephin Merritt – Forever And A Day [MP3]

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