100 Greatest Albums of the 90’s: #17

The Magnetic Fields – The House of Tomorrow EP

Relationships. The source of joy and misery the world over. I’ve never been in one (why do you think my record collection is so big?) so I’m just an observer, but you tend to pick up their basic structure for people my age.
1: Friendship/Excitement: You see no faults and you see flashes of the two of you running on the beach, kissing under fireworks and having the famous post-intimacy cigarette.
2: Infatuation: Similar to the above but you start seeing all their faults (except you think they’re “charms”). Their running on the beach is staggering and slow, their kissing under fireworks is too wet and over-enthusiastic and they spilt some ash on you during the post-intimacy cigarette. But that’s ok.

3: Questioning: You start seeing their faults as faults. Their slow running, weird chomping kissing and ash-related clumsiness are still there. And they’re beginning to piss you off.
4: Infuriation/Dissatisfaction: They’ve become an inconvenience. Spending time with them is like signing on the dole: unnecessarily complicated, yet annoyingly necessary formality. They now kiss as if they’re eating a Frube.

5: Confusion/Regret: It’s over, and even after all the annoyance and trials, you still wonder what went wrong and whether you’re making the right decision.

‘The House of Tomorrow’, The Magnetic Fields’ only EP is a thing of succinct genius. Each of the five tracks separately seem to portray a different stage of relationships in order. Every song is literally made up of a set of rain-washed loops that Stephin Merritt sings over. While his voice is often blank, his lyrics paired with the music become cinematic and convey plenty of emotion to make up for it. It starts with relationship formation: ‘Young and Insane’ is a childish escape from a miserable town and ‘Technical (You’re So)’ is full of a sort of numbed awe. It then moves to breakdown: ‘Alien Being’ sounds genuinely hurt when it says “you have no feelings” and ‘Love Goes Home to Paris In The Spring’ marks the point where annoyance ends and heartbreak begins. ‘Either You Don’t Love Me Or I Don’t Love You’ is full of an aching sorrow, especially when it says “Everytime you feel wonderful baby I feel bad”; it’s the sound of walking away from someone for the last time with a lump in your throat. As usual, Merritt’s lyrics are wonderfully understated but powerful. “Scavenging for a few antiques we’ll make a fortune just have patience” is sung as if he’s half smiling, like he knew it could never work. At just over twelve minutes, it’s the shortest album on this countdown, but it reveals so much in its fuzzy backdrops and sighing lyrics that if it was longer it would have been unnecessary. It’s a slow burner, but the fact that it’s so short makes it a surprisingly fast slow burner.
Listen to: Love Goes Home To Paris In The Spring

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Rusty on May 11, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    Hi, I know you wrote this a while ago now, but I stumbled upon it and really like your writing. I’ve got to start by thanking you for introducing me to The Magnetic Fields, who are great and entirely deserved of a stab in anyone’s top 100 of the 90’s. Your descriptions are fantastic to read, especially whilst listening to the album in question. As a compulsive list-maker it is refreshing to see a good list, and even better to see an entire site full of them. Glad to see you’re writing on a bigger scale now, just felt like stopping by and wishing you the best, really appreciate this site.

    Reply

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