The mad genius that is Magnetic Fields (né Stephin Merritt) has returned to complete the last installment in a trilogy of synthesizer-free albums. Those hoping for a companion piece to 2008’s Distortion (QRO review) will be in for a surprise. Realism is sonically the polar opposite of Distortion. With Realism, Merritt has taken his music to a place it’s never been before – to what Merritt describes as "folk territory." Merritt has called upon all the usual players (Claudia Gonson, Sam Davol, and John Woo among others) to assist both vocally and instrumentally. In Merritt’s eyes, folk’s only requirement is that an instrument remain unplugged, be it the sitar, banjo, or toy piano. He even employs a little help from leaves on one track – how much more folk can you get?
The most unique angle on this album is the different interpretations of folk. Due to the variety of instruments in use, there is a wide range of styles from more classically sounding songs utilizing the toy piano, to the acoustic banjo style tracks. Is there anything Stephin Merritt can’t do? Apparently not.
What Merritt has always done so brilliantly is to embody lyrics that are simultaneously witty and somber. "Seduced and Abandoned" is a prime example of heartbreak and humor as a jilted bride left at the altar suggests the best way to cope with her predicament is to have a few drinks with her bastard baby. "You Must Be Out Of Your Mind" is another classic Merritt track. Those yearning for more Merritt-meets-synth songs can look forward to the next Magnetic Fields album, which Stephin has said will be an all-synth album.