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 V.22 No.28 | July 11 - 17, 2013 

Sonic Reducer

I once fantasized about a Celebrity Deathmatch between ever-evolving pop-operatic warblers Zola Jesus and Katie Stelmanis of Toronto-based indietronica band Austra. While ZJ becomes more entrenched in dark territories previously charted by Diamanda Galás, Austra embraces a kind of haunted crystalline disco, presented with aplomb on Olympia. “What We Done?” is the thoughtful party girl’s comedown earworm. “We Become” sounds '80s eerie-tropical, thanks to Stelmanis’ recorder. “I Don't Care (I'm a Man)” is a tidy vignette that would sound great on a mixtape with James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and Alice Cooper’s “Only Women Bleed.” “Hurt Me Now” serves as a plaintive endnote.

Stephin Merritt makes a lot of music; see the Magnetic Fields, the 6ths, the Gothic Archies and Future Bible Heroes. FBH’s acerbic electro-pop has obviously been fun to make, but it's also obviously not a top priority; their last album came out in 2002. Now the trio—Merritt, fellow Magnetic Fields bandmate Claudia Gonson and longtime collaborator Christopher Ewen—returns with a rerelease of their old catalog as well as a new album, Partygoing. These 13 songs are densely packed with synths, keyboards and tongue-in-cheek world-wise lyrics. Standouts include “Satan, Your Way Is a Hard One,” “Keep Your Children in a Coma” and “Living, Loving, Partygoing.” Also I cannot be the only person who hears Marianne Faithfull pretending to be David Bowie on "Drink Nothing But Champagne."

Each of the 10 songs on Perfect View is either a track parenthetically enclosed by an audio loop or spotted with the repetition of a single phrase. When Hannes Norrvide performs, it’s in a frosty Swedish sprechgesang. He has that Ian Curtis voice that all those boys equipped with Casio keyboards desperately hope to conjure. While Norrvide is prolific—this is his second album in less than a year—it’s immediately apparent that Perfect View is less interesting than the 2012 release, Growing Seeds. At once extraordinarily dull yet still listenable, this is cold bathroom music, an array of polished mirrors sullied with smug faces staring blankly into them. The only Perfect View we’re given is through a window of banality.

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