All-star game II

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Say it three times: Hyacinths and Thistles. Then Wasps Nests. Make it into a tongue-twisting riddle. Whatever you have to do to remember these titles before your next trip to the record store, do it.

In his second studio project under the name The 6ths, Stephin Merritt has gathered another all-star stack of artists to voice his creations. Momus, Bob Mould, Sarah Cracknell, Miho Hatori, Odetta, Gary Numan, Melanie and more contribute to his characteristic witty-sad-pretty symphonies. It’s not as much an indie-superstar parade as Wasps Nests was, name-dropping Barbara Manning, Mary Timony, Dean Wareham, Mac McCaughan, Georgia Hubley and Lou Barlow. This time around, each distinctive voice fits within each distinctive soundscape. You’re not drawn to question why Stephin didn’t just complement the sparse layers with his own barrel-chested bedroom voice as many did with Wasps Nests.

You’re left wondering, however, how Merritt continues to come up with masterpiece after masterpiece. Just last year, everyone was putting 69 Love Songs (from Magnetic Fields, which he fronts) on their best-of-1999 lists. And his recent EP with Future Bible Heroes left critics spinning as well. Each project, each song and each lyric has its own style and atmosphere, but everything has the tinny Merritt aftertaste.

On Hyacinths, which was actually written before 69, metallic hunt-and-peck keyboarding and rusty guitar strums are made graceful with sweeping string work and unassuming word breathing — a sort of prequel to what was to come with the three-CD set. The little hairs on the back of your neck will dance and jump with joy when they hear Sarah Cracknell serenely emit, “I’ve been kissing my cigarette wishing it was you” in “Kissing Things.” In the next track, Miho Hatori hums and stumbles over pronunciation in the angelic “Lindy-Lou.” Bob Mould puts on a designer suit and roasts chestnuts in “He Didn’t.” Merritt’s work is a breath of fresh air in an oversaturated multimedia world. It’ll whisk itself in and out of your ears, breaking through the sound buildup better than peroxide or Q-Tips ever could.

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