Stephin Merritt

Eban & Charley (Merge)

Throughout his wildly eclectic and outstanding career, Stephin Merritt has managed to cloak himself in a variety of band disguises -- Magnetic Fields, the 6ths, Future Bible Heroes, the Gothic Archies. They all were put in the service of his frighteningly vulnerable baroque pop songs. The constants in these various personas have been revolving-door membership and a tendency for Merritt to hide behind the veil of his band constructions -- ironic for someone who reveals himself so blatantly in song.

With the release of the soundtrack from the independent film Eban & Charley, Merritt takes a tentative step away from his group activities to test the waters as a true solo artist. The range exhibited on Eban & Charley is similar in scope to the Magnetic Fields' stunning 69 Love Songs, with brilliantly executed pop of aching depth ("Maria Maria Maria") or tossed-off charm ("Poppyland," "This Little Ukelele"). The difference here is that Merritt gets the opportunity to write little bits of connecting sonic tissue that help define the mood of the film and act as buffers between the legitimate pop songs on the soundtrack. Taken as a whole, this elegant, affecting disc proves that, if anyone deserves the heavy mantle of genius in these lean musical times, Stephin Merritt is the likeliest and most reluctant candidate.