Love Letter To A Record: Beach Slang’s James Alex On Magnetic Fields’ ’69 Love Songs’

Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.

In this series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.

Here are their love letters to records that forever changed their lives.

James Alex, Beach Slang: Magnetic Fields – ’69 Love Songs’

It’s really hard to write sixty-nine songs. Ever. It’s absurd to write sixty-nine brilliant songs for a single release. But, that’s what this is — three hours of preposterous genius.

The first time I saw The Magnetic Fields was at The Town Hall in New York City. For the second encore, Stephin Merritt walked out alone and played ‘The Book Of Love’. Everything just kind of stopped. He finished, stood up and left. And that was how the thing ended. It was tender and aching and I wish I could live inside those few minutes forever.

I suppose I think of it like this: Stephin Merritt writes in a way that feels alien to me, like some strange magic trick. It’s funny and tragic, intellectual and visceral, happy and sad, seemingly, all at once, mapped out in wild rhyming patterns, set to perfect melody. It’s inspiring and maddening. I’ve accepted I’ll never quite figure it out. Maybe I never really want to. Listening with confusion and wonder is a gift — I am grateful.

I suppose, the thing that blistered my head most when I first tried dissecting his work on this record was the lyric, “Reno Dakota, I’m no Nino Rota. I don’t know the score.” Learning Nino Rota was the composer who wrote the score for The Godfather, knocked me all-the-way out. Really, think of connecting that thinking and those sounds. It’s maniacal. Rhyming anything with “Reno Dakota” is like mental kung-fu. Rhyming it with this, something this absurdly smart is impossible. Except that it isn’t — well, if you’re Stephin Merritt.

I read this interview where he said only two types of music matter: avant-garde and pop. 69 Love Songs fits there, somewhere inside and somewhere at the edges.

The whole thing is a wild tightrope.
Thanks for the ride.

James Alex’s new Quiet Slang EP ‘We Were Babies & We Were Dirtbags’ is out now. Listen here.

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