What’s new in … indie mainstays

Annie Zaleski

The Magnetic Fields, Love at the Bottom of the Sea

Literate indie-popsters The Magnetic Fields—aka clever wordsmith Stephin Merritt and a cast of musicians—sound rejuvenated as they embrace synthesizers for the first time since 1999’s iconic 69 Love Songs. Taut, memorable songs abound, referencing burbling new wave (“Your Girlfriend’s Face,” Human League dead-ringer “Infatuation (With Your Gyration)”) and gothic synth-rock (the Depeche Mode-y “God Wants Us to Wait”). Merritt’s lilting, droll wordplay is in fine form, too; the cowboy-glam nursery rhyme “Goin’ Back to the Country” is particularly delightful: “City life’s too slow/I’m sick of that 120 BPM punk and disco.”

The Shins, Port of Morrow

The Shins’ first album in five years features all the band’s beloved traits: shimmering keyboards, fluttery guitars, fairy-dusted electronic effects, James Mercer’s falsetto croon. But the effortless whimsy of earlier records is curiously absent, perhaps because of slicker production and somber tempos. Port of Morrow feels far too manicured and sterile—even as influences such as blue-eyed soul (“Fall of 82”), jangly ’80s Brit-pop (“No Way Down”) and woozy trip-hop (the title track) add variety.

Andrew Bird, Break It Yourself

The dainty but dense Break It Yourself is a creative step forward for the Chicago-based violinist, songwriter and composer. Majestic strings and warm guitar mince together like precise ballerinas, anchored by swirling percussion, Bird’s conversational tenor and poet-laureate lyrics. Highlights include the cheerful ’60s pop nugget “Eyeoneye” and the achingly romantic acoustic number “Sifters.” “Hole in the Ocean Floor” and the otherworldly “Belles,” meanwhile, conjure the melancholic orchestrated beauty of Sigur Rós.


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