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hyacinths and thistles
The 6ths
Hyacinths and Thistles
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Iíve said it before and Iíll say it again: it takes a lot of balls to organize a tribute album to yourself, let alone two of them. Then again, the Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt isnít your average musician. In the past 18 months alone heís released a critically acclaimed triple album (69 Love Songs), an EP of bleeping retro-pop (Iím Lonely and I Love It under his Future Bible Heroes moniker) and this, his second album as the 6ths. About the only things Merritt hasn't done in the last year and a half is release anything under his Gothic Archies guise or be knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

Picking up where Waspís Nest left off, Hyacinths and Thistles finds Merritt constructing a complex sonic playground in which a host of guest vocalists have come to frolic. While the songs might initially be Merrittís, each vocalist manages to transform each piece into something uniquely personal.

The album begins with the twinkling "As You Turn You Go", which features a Momus vocal dancing around firefly-like beats and plucky harpsichord flourishes. Sally Timms lends an almost ethereal quality to the minimal new wave pulse of "Give Me Back My Dreams". The album's highlight comes soon after, as Bob Mould's stirring baritone croon joins the lush piano work of He Didn't", which wouldn't sound out of place on 69 Love Songs. Other highlights of this star-studded pseudo tribute include '60s pop-icon Melanieís dreamy take on "Iíve Got New York", St. Etienne chanteuse Sarah Cracknell cooing over "Kissing Things"' scratchy, highly mechanized beats and the vaudeville-tinged "The Dead Only Quickly", which features Divine Comedian Neil Hannon's throaty vocal wallop.

Itís not until album closer "Oahu" that things really get weird. Running more than 28 minutes, the song ebbs and flows over spectral ambience and whizzing synths, eventually shooting out of the stratosphere and into the trackless abyss.

Would-be pop Svengalis should stand up and take note of all that Stephin Merritt has accomplished in a surprisingly short time. The 6ths are but one piece of his giant pop puzzle, but they are an important one. Hyacinths and Thistles will help cement his place atop the pop pantheon and garner him more well-deserved critical acclaim. And really, anyone with such brass cojones is certainly a hero of mine.

-- Jason Jackowiak
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