Saturday, January 1, 2011

The 6ths: Wasps' Nests (1995)



"Sixths," "wasps," and "nests" are three of the most difficult words to pronounce in the English language. Did I mention this is a Stephin Merritt project? Essentially, this is a Magnetic Fields album; if you love the Fields, there is not even the slightest chance you won't dig this. Featuring the same adorable keyboard arrangements and tentative beats as the contemporaneous Get Lost, this record finds Merritt exploring the notion of an imaginary Stephin Merritt tribute album featuring many of his friends from the indie rock universe, which -- despite his reputation -- he seems to fully embrace as his own here.

The pedigree for any scholar of '90s college radio is rather astounding; that the CD was released by Polygram says a fair bit about the state of the music industry in 1994-95, the same time that Atlantic had a stake in Matador and just a few years after Geffen paid Sub Pop a pretty penny and a half for Nirvana. The uncomfortable collision of old-world mainstream media companies and scrappy independent music, a bizarre situation Merritt and Claudia Gonson could tell you a few stories about, isn't our concern here. The point is, if you've got Charm of the Highway Strip and 69 Love Songs and Get Lost and the no-synth trilogy but not this, you need it right now! Emergency situation!

And you get to hear exclusive Merritt songs, as lovely as ever, sung by the lovely Chris Knox and the immortal Mitch Easter, plus members of Unrest, Superchunk, Helium, the Clean, and Galaxie 500. There's even a song sung by Merritt himself, "Aging Spinsters," which is completely indistinguishable from the Magnetic Fields, not that the rest of this isn't, since Merritt's hardly been the exclusive vocalist on even the Fields' most popular albums.

But Nathan! you're saying. If this is just like a Magnetic Fields album, well, what the fuck's so special about it? And I say to you: do you realize what you just said!?

I can add this, though, and admit some degree of bias, that one song alone here is worth the whole album's price. One of the only acts in existence today that can stand up with the Magnetic Fields for me is Yo La Tengo, who I still contend are the greatest band in the world at the moment. The Magnetic Fields are the third or fourth best, probably. So when they, in some sense, collaborate, it'd be a big deal anyway. And all of the songs on this album are terrific, but this one really stands out: the monstrously funny and distressing "Movies in My Head," a dead ringer for Yaz-era synthpop, sung by none other than Georgia Hubley. Not only is it staggering and lovely to hear her in Stephin's context, it's a really outstanding song that's actually a cut above the rest of this already excellent material.

What are you waiting for, then? (If you already have this album, I'm sorry for the advert-like tone here, but I think it's warranted.)

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