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Magnetic Fields Biography

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Birth Place: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Years Active: 1989 – present
Genres: Synthpop, Indie Pop, Noise Pop, Folk-pop

The Magnetic Fields (named after the André Breton novel, Les Champs Magnétiques) is the principal creative outlet of singer-songwriter Stephin Merritt. While the particular musical style of the band is usually as malleable as Merritt's songwriting, they are commonly attributed to pop genres and subgenres, including synthpop, indie pop, noise pop, and, most recently, folk-pop.

Earlier in the band's career, The Magnetic Fields were characterized by synthesized instrumentation by Merritt with lead vocals provided by Susan Anway (and then by Stephin Merrit himself). A more traditional band later materialized, currently composed of Merritt, Claudia Gonson, Sam Davol, and John Woo, with occasional guest vocals by Shirley Simms. The band is recognizable for Merrit's lyrics, often about love, that are by turns ironic, bitter, and humorous.

Their debut album, “Distant Plastic Trees” was issued in 1991 and re-released by Merge Records in 1994 as a double album compilation with the band's following release, “The Wayward Bus.” The Merge reissue included a silence of four minutes and thirty-three seconds before “Railroad Boy” which could be an unlisted cover of John Cage's silent piece, “4′33″.” “The Wayward Bus” had been released first in 1992 and was the last album to feature Susan Anway as lead vocalist.

“Holiday” followed in 1994 on Feel Good All Over. Merge Records reissued it in 1999. The first Magnetic Fields album to have its original release with Merge Records, “The Charm of the Highway Strip,” was also released in 1994. Merge issued “Get Lost” in 1995.

The 1999 triple album “69 Love Songs” showcased Merritt's songwriting abilities and the group's musicianship, demonstrated by the use of such varied instruments as ukulele, banjo, accordion, cello, mandolin, flute, xylophone, and Marxophone, in addition to their usual setting of synthesizers, guitars, and effects. The album featured vocalists Shirley Simms, Dudley Klute, L.D. Beghtol, and Claudia Gonson, each of whom sings lead on six songs as well as various backing vocals, plus Daniel Handler on accordion, and longtime collaborator Christopher Ewen as guest arranger/synthesist.

The band's recent albums, “i” (2004) and “Distortion” (2008), both followed the album theme structure of “69 Love Songs” with the song titles on “I” begin with the letter “I,” while “Distortion” was an experiment in combining noise music with their typically unconventional musical approach. The liner notes claim the album was made without synthesizers. “Realism” was released in January 2010, concluding what Merritt termed the “no-synth” trilogy. The next album produced will feature synthesisers “almost exclusively.”