X is for….”Xylophone Track” by the Magnetic Fields. When people write about this band, the emphasis tends to fall on Stephin Merritt’s songwriting, but one of the reasons 69 Love Songs is such a favourite – and one of the reasons his throwaway tracks and pastiches anooy me not one bit – is the sound of the thing. Exact and brittle, Merritt’s arrangements are as well-constructed as his lyrics, with ukeleles, banjos, kayboards, drum machines and spun-glass guitar falling politely into place to the listenership’s delight. With his strings and loops, snatches of odd instruments and relentless analogue experimentation, he’s like an indie pop RZA (excepting that no doubt he couldn’t make a beat to save his life)

And, of course, there’s Merritt’s treacle-and-tarmac voice: the deeper it gets, the better it sounds. A lot of people hate it, but it’s not just his phrasing which makes me shiver, it’s the wonderful, thick noise of his drawled vowels and clucked consonants: his delivery on early Magnetic Fields tracks was hesitant and his tone didn’t come across so well, but in this regard 69 Love Songs is a revelation, pointing Merritt up as the best non-singing singer since Gainsbourg. On “Xylophone Track”, apparently recorded at 6 AM to ensure maximum bass in the voice, Merritt sings like he’s just been dredged up from a river. A spatchcocked crossover between musical theatre and blues, “Xylophone Track”‘s meaning is all in the singing, the way Merritt plumbs impossible depths of voluptuous vocal sludge, stretching the word “blues” from a mere croak into a dark, funny death rattle, while around him finickity movie keyboards filigree away. Gorgeous.