6ths Hyacinths and Thistles

Stephin Merritt (of Magnetic Fields, Future Bible Heroes and Gothic Archies) introduces his latest taste of tongue twisting torture with Hyacinths and Thistles, by the 6ths, his second effort as such, following 1995's Wasps' Nests. While the last one featured indie rock superstars of the moment (Sebadoh, Superchunk, Yo La Tengo), this one casts a wider net in its search for guests vocalists, coming up with a dramatic blend of Serge Gainsbourg chanson and synth pop ennui - and it's full of surprises. Bob Mould croons through his best Neil Diamond impression on "He Didn't"; the out-of-tune instrumental wheez of "Kissing Things" works perfectly for St. Etienne's Sarah Cracknell; the accented vocals of Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori make her another instrument in Merritt's arsenal on "Lindy Lou"; folk legend Odetta sounds like a besotted drag queen on "Waltzing Me All the Way Home"; and Gary Numan gets an appropriately early '80s sci fi track - Dr. Who as electro pop - over which he whispers his love for a sailor (and rhymes with Elizabeth Taylor). Like the Fields' magnum opus 69 Love Songs (destined to remain Merritt's measuring stick for life), Hyacinths and Thistles provides different pleasures in different moments - occasionally heartbreaking, sometimes melodramatic and often hilarious. And chances are, Merritt will have recorded and released another head-spinning masterpiece before your giddy buzz subsides. (Merge)