Stephin Merritt's songwriting seems to be at its best when he's fitting it into a solid framework.
Along with various high-concept side projects over the years, many of the Magnetic Fields' albums have been organized around an over-arching theme, giving them some rules or parameters to limit Merritt's boundless output.
Twelfth studio album Quickies is sculpted around the concept of short songs, 28 of them, none of which reach the three-minute mark.
In some ways, Merritt has done this before.
One of the Magnetic Fields' most well-received albums, 1999's 69 Love Songs, had no shortage of brief tunes padding out its more substantial ones.
Those quick songs felt more like interludes between fleshed-out statements, where Quickies tracks like the 17-second-long "Death Pact (Let's Make A)" read more like partially completed thoughts.
The shortest and sparest tunes feel like fragmental asides, but many songs are more developed than the concept would let on.
Even with a minimal arrangement of piano and vocal harmonies, "The Day the Politicians Died" is up there with some of Merritt's most memorable tunes; his distinctive flair for melody and winking lyrical turns are as strong as ever.
"Let's Get Drunk Again (And Get Divorced)," even at an economical minute-and-16-seconds, feels just a verse and synth solo short of fitting in on The Charm of the Highway Strip.
"Come, Life, Shaker Life!" reveals a new direction, with wispy folk chords and lyrics referencing Shaker beliefs.
The least interesting songs are usually the ones that stick the least, so the few duds on Quickies are quickly absorbed by a ratio consisting of mostly great pop songs.
If anything, the album reinforces the unstoppable brilliance of Merritt's writing.
At any length, instrumentation or investigating whatever ridiculous subject matter, he somehow manages to be effortlessly charming, funny, odd, and above all, catchy.