Artist – The Magnetic Fields
Album – Distant Plastic Trees
Year – 1991
Genre – Indie Pop
Greetings from my final year at Geneseo! I’ve finally settled in and have finished each class at least once, so I thought I should kick off the first of my senior year college reviews. I wanted a song that’s both happy and melancholic; bittersweet, if you will. A song that reflects the tone and feelings I have going into this final year before the real world. The Magnetic Fields’ “100,000 Fireflies” is a song that has an upbeat and sunny tone, but lyrics about loneliness, and longing for a love that was lost. The package that results is one of pure beauty.
The distinctive, happy piano line that repeats throughout the song is a pleasant way to begin. Instrumentally the song doesn’t get much more complicated. There’s some crashing drum effects to keep the beat, but the piano and the melody that revolves around it are the stars of the show. It’s catchy and despite the repetition, it keeps you firmly surrounded by this lovely texture that it creates.
The vocals are just gorgeous. Susan Anway’s high voice is light and airy, but despite the delicate nature of her voice, there are so many emotions you can sense from her singing. Of course, vocals are just half of the equation in a song of this caliber. Stephin Merritt, the songwriter and creator of The Magnetic Fields, has penned words so simple and beautiful that they fit the nature of the song to a T. Here are a few of my favorite selections that Mr. Merritt has written:
I’m afraid of the dark without you close to me
I went out to the forest and caught
A hundred thousand fireflies
As they ricochet round the room
They remind me of your starry eyes
Someone else’s might not have made me so sad
But this is the worst night I ever had
You won’t be happy with me,
But give me one more chance
You won’t be happy anyway
and of course, the often discussed, gorgeous, and mysterious ending passage:
Why do we keep shrieking,
when we mean soft things?
We should be whispering all the time…
This is the kind of songwriting that just touches me every time I listen. It’s about wishing for a second chance, and how little things remind you a loved one, and how nights are long, painful, and sleepless without that person who completed you by your side. It’s about looking at past mistakes and trying so desperately to figure out how they could have been fixed.
As Anway sings, you can sense that she’s picking up on all of these things. The melody for the “I’m afraid of the dark” line is sensitive and just so well crafted. As the song transitions to that line, the sadness in her voice is so palpable. Every time the melody changes, you can hear the pain that’s buried underneath the pitch of her vocals.
The ending is especially heartbreaking. The piano line here is different. It’s more subtle and haunting. More reflective in a way. The final three stanzas are just so hard to listen to from an emotional standpoint. We all blame ourselves after love is lost, and in that vein we feel every vocal punch that the words and melody throw at us. Those last lines that I posted above can be interpreted any number of ways, but I can say that I think everyone who hears it will put their own memories of past or present love into those words in some way, shape, or form.
This song may be a bit of a downer to start the school year, but sad songs are often the most beautiful, and if you’re looking for a little known and underappreciated gem of a song, then “100,000 Fireflies” will surely fit the bill.
Thanks for reading, as always! This school year will certainly be full of surprises, and I’m sure that will be reflected in the songs that you’ll be seeing. Be sure to leave a like, comment, follow, or share this song. Thanks again!