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August 11, 2008 | by  | in Music |
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Album: The Magnetic Fields – Holiday

Holiday, released in 1994, shyly sits in the cobwebbed corners of The Magnetic Fields discography. Its importance to the formation of modern-day synth-pop is rarely doted on. Not only is it a blueprint for the structure of modern synthpop, it was recorded during the crossroads of alternative music, when the twin obsessions of the 1980s, rave and post-punk were past the apex of their popularity and more alt-rock orientated scenes were gaining momentum. Such is the strange overlapping of historical genre that can be heard in Holiday: the long, churning vocals of Stephin Merrit reflect those of post-punk artists Ian Curtis and Ian McCulloch. The synthesised foundation, drum machine and simple (but nonetheless effective) melody draw reference to the influence of 1980s rave and synthesised music, culminating in an original blend of flavour were so unlike anything else at the time.

Synth-pop that is solely ‘fun’ is one dimensional but Holiday delivers fun with wicked intelligence. We are introduced to Holiday with ‘BBC Radiophonic Workshop’, a 22 second track of clean, upbeat, synth fun which immediately captures any wandering interest in the listener and pins it to the stereo (think Grayson Gilmour’s short synth tracks). The following ‘Desert Island’ illustrates the reoccurring theme of irony as Merrit sings “I’ll be the madness that carries you away / I’ll be the sadness to light your darkest day”. The strange but delightful abandonment of reason in the quest for irony would well suit as a vibe that is continuous throughout Holiday as Merrit’s vocals carry and softly fade alongside rhythms that are impossible to grow tired of, and outlandish stories of life.

The brooding ‘In My Secret Place’ is a wonderful orchestration of diverse musical elements and styles. The slow, longing, almost depressing vocals are strangely backed by an upbeat tempo, a colourful synth line, and Commander Keen-esque effects during the chorus. The track twists the album’s mood slightly, taking it down a notch as if starting a long slow breath out, setting the scene for one of the masterpieces of The Magnetic Fields entire discography ‘Take Ecstasy With Me’.

A melancholy but triumphant piece ‘Take Ecstasy with Me’ closes the album. This is a track that can proudly stand side by side with Joy Divisions’ epic ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’; Not only does Merrit’s voice sound all too reminiscent that of Ian Curtis, and does the synthesised pipe line sister that of the infamous synth riff of LWTUA, but it successfully manages to spark that dormant bed of existentiality in the listener that only awakens of true enlightenment.

Holiday demonstrates that synth-pop does not have to be glitz without the theory, and have provided a sublime blueprint of how to accomplish depth within synthesised music. The Magnetic Fields, and they’re musical design may come as a bit of a shock to the modern synth-pop fan. Indeed it may be a bit of reach to truly understand the bizarre variety in Holiday but I believe we owe it to ourselves to, for once, meet music halfway and make the effort to educate ourselves on what can be beautiful music, and beautiful synth-pop. It does exist.

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