The Magnetic Fields debut, Distant Plastic Trees, is a fine album in its own right, although to many fans of the group it will serve more as a blueprint for Stephin Merritt's later work. One of two albums recorded with vocalist Susan Anway, the record makes amazing use of cheap keyboards and drum machines to create a series of diverse sounding songs that exude a timeless wistfulness, simplicity, and a rural atmosphere. As fine as the Magnetic Fields later work is, this feel was never was quite duplicated. "Smoke Signals" and "100,000 Fireflies" are among Merritt's best songs, with beautiful instrumentation and haunting vocals. When the songwriter pursues more of an experimental vision, as on "Kings" and the cover of "Babies Falling," the results are interesting, but lack the sheer beauty of the record's best moments, like the quiet simplicity of "Josephine." The album also contains the first of Merrit's forays into other musical styles, the Appalachian-drenched "Tar-Heel Boy." The record was later combined with 1991's The Wayward Bus on one CD.
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AllMusic Review by Geoff Orens