14 Songs, 41 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

The title’s no joke: Distortion sounds like music made in a foundry, each track prickly with feedback and fuzz, echo and drone. Stephin Merritt has even feedbacked the piano as well as the accordion and cello, and the resulting mix of orchestral pop and post-punk cacophony is both catchy and hard to listen to, like something that might once have been filed under “ambient headache” at the record store. Who else would — could? — think of a love song like “Zombie Boy,” which makes re-animating a corpse sound like a viable dating option? “You look pretty pure / For so long in the ground / You smell like a sewer / But you don’t make a sound.” On an album full of wintry, love-lost sorts of songs, the first track serves as a red herring: “3-Way” is a bouncy instrumental powered by carnivalesque piano and 60s garage-surf guitar, punctuated only by the joyfully chanted title. Visions of polyamorous decadence quickly vanish with the sour stick of bubblegum that is “California Girls” (the singer hates them), not to mention the world’s most cheerless Christmas song, the shriekily feedbacked and hungover-sounding “Mr. Mistletoe.” Merritt loves his schtick, and this album’s no exception. But by making his theme sonic, not literary (as it was in 1999’s acclaimed 69 Love Songs or 2004’s soft-rock-y I), he’s stumbled on a curious truth: dissonance is to melody as loss is to love. Mixed together, they make beauty of the most unearthly kind.

EDITORS’ NOTES

The title’s no joke: Distortion sounds like music made in a foundry, each track prickly with feedback and fuzz, echo and drone. Stephin Merritt has even feedbacked the piano as well as the accordion and cello, and the resulting mix of orchestral pop and post-punk cacophony is both catchy and hard to listen to, like something that might once have been filed under “ambient headache” at the record store. Who else would — could? — think of a love song like “Zombie Boy,” which makes re-animating a corpse sound like a viable dating option? “You look pretty pure / For so long in the ground / You smell like a sewer / But you don’t make a sound.” On an album full of wintry, love-lost sorts of songs, the first track serves as a red herring: “3-Way” is a bouncy instrumental powered by carnivalesque piano and 60s garage-surf guitar, punctuated only by the joyfully chanted title. Visions of polyamorous decadence quickly vanish with the sour stick of bubblegum that is “California Girls” (the singer hates them), not to mention the world’s most cheerless Christmas song, the shriekily feedbacked and hungover-sounding “Mr. Mistletoe.” Merritt loves his schtick, and this album’s no exception. But by making his theme sonic, not literary (as it was in 1999’s acclaimed 69 Love Songs or 2004’s soft-rock-y I), he’s stumbled on a curious truth: dissonance is to melody as loss is to love. Mixed together, they make beauty of the most unearthly kind.

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