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The Gothic Archies: The New Despair EP

Album: The New Despair EP
Label: Merge

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Stephin Merritt (of The Magnetic Fields and The Gothic Archies) is a brilliant pop composer and a lyrical genius, but he doesn't write the happiest songs around. His subjects are always walking home alone on a rainy morning, or realizing that what they thought was love was lies, or some such attractive melodrama. But the seven songs on The Gothic Archies' The New Despair EP aren't even as hopeful as that. Merritt's keyboard-based music is still irresistible, defying as it does the various pop-keyboard conventions. But on this record, the songs are entirely in minor key, except for the all-guitar feedback dirge "It's Useless To Struggle"—which, although dark, foreboding and ominous, isn't really in any key at all. Couple this with Merritt's own hired-mourner voice, and songs like "The Abandoned Castle Of My Soul" and "City Of The Damned" become catchy, soul-crushing ballads without redemption or hope. Which, come to think of it, is utterly entertaining, and a long-standing pop tradition of its own. Get it.