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Magik Markers - Boss

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Artist: Magik Markers

Album: Boss

Label: Ecstatic Peace!

Review date: Sep. 24, 2007

When the Magik Markers first debuted a few years back, theirs was a reputation staked on pure aggression and virulent post-core swagger. Initially a trio known for walking that all-too-fine line between transcendent, in-concert anarchy and nonplussed, detuned live skronk, the Markers left a trail of CD-Rs that documented their raw, off-the-cuff marriage of free rock bluster, noise grit and punk derived thrust.

And while the fury of those early sets and limited edition releases were something to behold, the glass ceiling they had created for themselves in that realm grew more opaque as time passed. But rather than smash endlessly against that enclosure in the vain hopes of breaking free, the Markers took an alternate route towards escape, one that led right back through the song-form and tunefulness that the group initially rejected with the vitriolic screeds that made them famous.

Pared down to a duo now that founding guitarist Leah Quimby has left the group, the Magik Markers’s Boss (their first widely available compact disc release, thanks to the folks at Ecstatic Peace) evidences an obvious dynamic shift. Instrumentally, the squalls are less threatening; the previous din, it would seem, has been tempered and calmed. Guitarist/vocalist Elisa Ambrogio and drummer Pete Nolan can still whip up a frenzy with which to be reckoned; however, there’s a quiet control that manages to keep even the most outward-bound blasts of fuzz and distortion on opener “Axis Mundi” in line with the track’s pretty basic rock vibe.

Though it presents a more restrained side of the Markers, the group’s embrace of almost conventional dynamics is actually pretty liberating. Shorn of any obligations to noise as an aesthetic, Boss echoes with the sounds of two people testing out their own limitations while figuring out how the sounds that came before will fit into those that will ultimately follow. Tracks like “Body Rot” revel in the type of punk brio that had always permeated the group’s lengthier improvisations, giving that same vibe a succinct treatment that works surprisingly well. And even when the pair stretch things out a bit, as they do on the excellent “Last of the Lemach Line,” there’s a new narrative focus that gives the track a compelling urgency.

Most surprising here, though, is Nolan and Ambrogio’s wildly successful approach of ballad forms. Hard to tell exactly how a band like this went from unkempt aggression to quiet grandeur so quickly and efficiently, but both “Empty Bottles” and “Bad Dream” mine gauzy melodies and spare accompaniment in ways that seem neither forced nor trite. No small feat, and as the sawing wheeze of “Bad Dream” carries through to completion, all a weepy counterpoint to Ambrogio’s sing-song story and gentle acoustic, one gets a sense of just how monumental this movement really is.

Though a liberating blast, noise as an aesthetic in and of itself can be a bit of a dead end. Now, as this current generation of No Fun-ites begin to explore life outside the moan and scrape, a whole new form of outsider performance is being birthed, one that approaches extremely conventional modes and sounds with a distinctly anarchic ability to toy with form until it resembles something that the masses would still never recognize. Boss is a shining example of that kind of transformation, and one that showcases a group known for its flux embracing the idea of relative stability and proving it can be a staggering success.

By Michael Crumsho

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