The luckiest guy on the Lower East Side, The Magnetic Fields’ cryptic and often achingly funny leader Stephin Merritt, hasn’t released a new full-length since 2004’s kind-of-disappointing “i,” and “Distortion,” the new record, as the title suggests, traces back to the mid-nineties style of the band, before “69 Love Songs,” when Merritt would pen electric-guitar-and-beatbox-heavy pop songs. “I hate California girls” is sung as the hook on second track “California Girls,” and immediately you’re happy Stephin’s back. (Like most of the Fields’ records, he doesn’t use his baritone on every song and lets guests take the reins.) “Distortion” is certainly not the masterpiece that is the seminal “69 Love Songs” or even “Get Lost” or “Holiday,” but there are moments of pure charm that only Merritt could pull off, like on the ecstatic “Too Drunk to Dream,” which opens with the lyric, “Sober life is a prison/Shitfaced it is a blessing/Sober nobody wants you/Shitfaced they’re all undressing.” Reports indicate that Merritt and company have been diving deep in the catalogue during the tour, so expect something unexpected. (Tom Lynch)
The Magnetic Fields play March 14-16 at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 North Lincoln, (773)728-6000.