The Magnetic Fields' last three albums all eschewed the synthesizers that typified their sound in the '90s, but Fields main man Stephin Merritt makes up for it on Love at the Bottom of the Sea, where he deploys at least 10 albums' worth of synths in a brisk 35 minutes. Every song here bubbles and whirs and stumbles by in a queasy synthesizer haze, like we're on a decrepit old junk struggling to harbor under the watch of a captain who has lost his sea legs but picked up a sweet Korg. The woozy "Born for Love" almost causes vertigo. This combo of synths and acoustic instruments harks back to the band's '90s heyday, but whereas the two back then often blended into irresistible pop magic, here they're competing with one another for the spotlight, butting heads for our attention. The actual songs are often overwhelmed by rhythmic clusters of gurgling washes and pops that sound like a Casio's "laser" or "fantasy" settings. Merritt's lyrics are still clever, especially on the great "Andrew in Drag," the album's highlight. But the disc largely lacks the memorable song- writing Merritt is known for, and that deficit is only comp-ounded by the misguided production.
THE MAGNETIC FIELDS + DEVOTCHKA | Berklee Performance Center, 136 Mass Ave, Boston | April 6 + 7 @ 8 pm | All Ages | $32.50 | 617.747.2261