Tragic Realism

LD & the New Criticism

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Tragic Realism Review

by Stewart Mason

"I wouldn't cry if you were run over by a train/But I might just laugh if the train cut you in half/And spread your brains like lime jello all over the track/You won't be coming back" is quite possibly the single most brutal opening verse to a breakup song ever, but by the end of the debut album by LD & the New Criticism, that jaunty little kiss-off, "Elegy for an Ex," sounds par for the course. LD is LD Beghtol, likely best known as an adjunct member of Stephin Merritt's Magnetic Fields. Another member of the Magnetic Fields orbit is Daniel Handler, far better known as best-selling children's book author Lemony Snicket, and Tragic Realism sounds like Beghtol shares Handler's pitch-black sense of humor. All 16 songs on Tragic Realism are about death, in a wide variety of unpleasant fashions, and all of them are as dryly funny and philosophically bleak as vintage Dorothy Parker. The sense of humor extends to the artwork: the album's elaborate liner notes are structured like a college lit. textbook, complete with an extensive critical essay (by noted horror author Peter Straub, no less) and helpful guides to the recurrent themes and symbols in the album's lyrics. Musically, the Magnetic Fields are clearly the primary influence, both their early days as a minimalist synth outfit with Phil Spector fantasies, and the later 69 Love Songs era where Merritt and his associates created a form of 21st century chamber pop. Fans of that brand of ironic but affectionate twee indie pop and snarky smart-arses everywhere will be sure to enjoy this one.

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