I first heard Magnetic Fields, the band of which Stephin Merritt is impresario, back in 1999 on KDHX, the St. Louis public radio station. It was late at night, the song was "The Book of Love", Merritt started singing in his deep voice tinged with wiseass-ness -- "The book of love is long and boring / No one can lift the damn thing" -- and I chalked them up to another indie band I didn't need to care about, until Merritt sang the chorus: "But I-I-I-I-I-I-I [that's a melisma], I love the way you SING to me", and my heart blew up and I can't believe I didn't crash my car. It's still one of my most vivid memories of being introduced to an artist, akin to being stricken by Ne-Yo's "So Sick" six(?) or so years later. '99 was the year Merritt blew up LOTS of music lovers' hearts, and if nothing since has gripped me like 69 Love Songs, this compilation of B-sides and whatnot comes close. It's full of classically constructed pop songs, beautiful melodies, plenty of wiseassery, and even some loud synthesizer noise in "Rats in the Garbage of the Western World". Fine musical comfort food, and songs like the one below bring me right back to Manchester Road.