Pieces of April

Stephin Merritt

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Pieces of April Review

by Johnny Loftus

In Pieces of April, love is an underused back stairway. Everyone knows where its long flights and landings lead. But the fire escape is a quick, hardened route to the same location, and there's no one to pass on the way up or down. Stephin Merritt's music makes similar decisions. His tunes are steeped in city-person cynicism and the recognition of melancholy as a means to an end. However, they're often laced with true-love pixie dust, and cause hangovers of the headily romantic variety. Pieces of April features ten electronics and guitar-tinged pop songs made by Merritt: four previously unreleased Magnetic Fields songs; "One April Day," written exclusively for the film; three from the 1999 opus 69 Love Songs; and two from the 6ths' Hyacinths and Thistles, with featured vocalists. It's pointedly brief (the entire album occurs in under 27 minutes), but Merritt showers each moment of April with ridiculously perfect raindrops. The new "Stray With Me" extrapolates a happy relationship through better and worse, wedding cakes and wakes -- but its burbling bottom end and cut-up cello suggest the soundtrack to a dream sequence. 69 Love Songs lark "The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side" is the production number from a forgotten sad-sack musical, and in "As You Turn to Go," Momus annunciates the classic line "I know you've had more loves than Mata Hari/But you know that you're the star of my life story" with an exquisitely rendered mixture of decadence and true longing. Merritt himself is so droll, he can make the resignation of "I Think I Need a New Heart" sound romantic. "I always say I love you when I mean turn out the light/And I say 'let's run away' when I just mean 'stay the night'" -- the song's chamber country bop just gives the jaded lyrics more sting. Merritt understands that in a crowded city (or an estranged family), love might be on an "as long as you're here" basis. But behind the emotional wounds, punk rock bangs, and spend-the-rent rebellion, everyone wants to believe in the same three words.

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