The Magnetic Fields - Love at the Bottom of the Sea (****)
Following the profile-raising 69 Love Songs, Stephin Merritt largely ditched the synthesisers that had characterised great swathes of the Magnetic Fields’ previous output, embarking on a ‘no-synth’ trilogy that culminated in 2010’s Realism. Love at the Bottom of the Sea restores electronics with a vengeance, its opening seconds sounding more like Michael and Janet Jackson’s Scream than a ukulele-playing ABBA-fanatic has any right to.
Despite a lengthy tracklisting, the album is a trim 35 minutes, and brevity is an asset; try to extend expertly-crafted Faberge pop like Infatuation (With Your Gyration)’s prefab-OMD or the breezy Andrew in Drag and you risk extinguishing their sparkle. That won’t stop some dismissing Love… a slight work, but with 69 Love Songs as a career benchmark, anything produced under the Magnetic Fields banner is bound to seem humble by comparison. Taken on its own merits, Merritt’s added another chapter to a songbook without peer.
The Wedding Present - Valentina (***)
They’re a long way off Fall-figures, but for their eighth studio album, The Weddoes have undergone another line-up change: two more personnel subbed out, and erstwhile drummer Graeme Ramsay moved into a more central position. In addition to taking up guitar and piano duties, Ramsay co-wrote all but one of Valentina’s tracks, and as such deserves a fair share of credit for it surpassing the patchy El Rey.
Back a Bit…Stop and The Girl From the DDS are, respectively, fine representatives of the band’s boisterous and contemplative sides, the latter especially effective thanks to new bassist Pepe Le Moko’s German-sung counterpoint vocals. But ultimately, fluctuations in the cadre matter little: like Mark E. Smith’s stranglehold on the Fall’s identity, The Wedding Present remain The Wedding Present so long as David Gedge’s droll lyrics and delivery stay put, and his undiminished knack for skewering cliché ensures even Valentina’s less distinctive tracks hit home.
Out 19th March
Kelvox1 - Grazed Red (***)
Depending on how you look at it, Kelvox1 either occupy a genre-less zone of glitches and groans; or, paralactically, they’re saturated with genres, with post-rock, dub-step, krautrock and even the faint ghost of an alt-eighties pop song inhabiting their pockmarked soundscapes.
Either way, their music is voluminous (Grazed Red consists of just two tracks, the shorter of which tops out at thirteen minutes) yet minimalist, and rewards focussed listening: Hanged Man’s repetitive bass-line and clanging beat underpins a steady degeneration into scrapes and whines, while Steven-Grazed Red’s mechanical hiccups and distant vocals grow bleakly centreless.
Both tracks are hypnotic if encountered in a certain state of mind, but if initial impressions are unfavourable, trust your instincts: there may be depth to what Kelvox1 do, but the main components are there on the surface to be embraced or rejected. With music this eerily austere, many will understandably select the latter option.