The Magnetic Fields Distortion (Nonesuch) The Magnetic Fields, led by New York singer-songwriter Stephin Merritt, have built a cult following over the years thanks to Merritt's signature of perky melodies married to lyrics laced with bitterness and comic irony. Yet with the band's latest album Distortion, Merritt seems to be drowning in a hangover of negative sentiment, the music softly bleached in designer distortion to hammer the point home. I Hate California Girls evokes the Beach Boys in style but obviously not in sentiment, while Merritt's slightly creepy drone enables him to genuinely sound like a man who fathers of Californian girls ought to keep away from their daughters. On Mr Mistletoe the misery takes on a comic tone, with the festive plant stripped of its romance and admonished as 'you useless weed' by Merritt, who by this point sounds like Ringo Starr singing Yellow Submarine under the influence of ketamine (horse tranquilisers). Or there's Too Drunk to Dream, a song about the need to get obliterated in order to escape from the cruel realities of a breakup. Lyrically, Distortion never takes its head out of its hands. The music also succumbs to the poison, with Merritt's guitars, the percussion and vocals of Claudia Gonson, Sam Davol's cello and John Woo's guitar frazzled by both the mental distortion from which the album takes its name and the feedback which gives the entire album a monochromatic feel. Nevertheless, the camp melodies do shine through, with Xavier Says shimmering like a reflection in slightly muddied water. Think the Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy wearing a beer-soaked feather boa, crying away along the freeway all the way to California, and that seems to be the mood Merritt finds himself in at the moment.