Replacing soft, uptempo instruments in a typical pop sound with dark, metallic effects, the band delivers another gripping look back while pressing forward. Stephen Merritt’s cynical crooning, Claudia Gonson’s withered melodies, and a highly distorted musical landscape combine to make a memorable album.
Distortion is a complex album that employs a variety of techniques to muddy pop waters. Sheered guitars and sharp lyrics dominate most songs, and pull the album away from what would have been a cheery, throwback sound. From the indicting "California Girls" to the dreary "Mr. Mistletoe" to the oversexual "Zombie Boy", The Magnetic Fields have senses of both antagonization and agony that heavily envelop their subjects. "Too Drunk To Dream" and "I’ll Dream Alone" both feature Stephen Merritt’s deep vocals burning a hole in the listener’s heart with a painfully downhearted delivery. It’s laid on as thickly as anyone has done before.
Musically, Distortion is a forward-leaning mix of industrial vibes, razor-sharp guitar effects, and sedated pop drumming. The opener, "Three-Way" features distorted guitars soaring while a piano melody and drumbeat bops beneath. The interplay of gray, ominous effects and bouncy, catchy, and sometimes classic-sounding tunes is the theme on Distortion.
The way that guitars and lyrics stretch Distortion so far away from the buried pop sound is what makes it so noticeable. Caught in between the tugging are heart-wrenching groans, ear-perking lyrics, and endless, striking sounds that are truly special. Indie pop has never been pushed so well.