True to its title, the latest album from Stephin Merritt's long-running prickly pop project the Magnetic Fields is full of feedback and reverb. While it might seem that such sonic intrusion would disrupt these carefully crafted tunes, that's not the case. In fact, Distortion is as pretty, melodic and fully formed as anything Merritt has done. From the surf-rock near-instrumental "Three-Way" to "California Girls" (which pays homage to and skewers the Beach Boys) to "The Nun's Litany," this slightly dissonant dream-scape of an album is charming, irreverent and catchy throughout thanks to Shirley Simms, a longtime friend of Merritt's who lends her '60s and '70s radio-style vocals to every other track. Despite the songs' debt to Phil Spector, Merritt's lyrics are, thankfully, as bitter as ever on tracks such as "Mr. Mistletoe," on which he sings lines like "Oh, Mr. Mistletoe, wither and die, you useless weed/For no one have I." Merritt learned long ago that pretty ditties and sour sentiment go together perfectly, and he has never better expressed it better than he does here.
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