FIRST PUBLISHED AT THE LINE OF BEST FIT
Album Review: Magik Markers – Balf Quarry
Magik Markers are the noise rock duo hailing from Hartford, Connecticut, comprising two core members in Elisa Ambrogio and Pete Nolan. ‘Balf Quarry’ is their first album on Drag City having previously released material on – among others – the Ecstatic Peace imprint owned by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, a band Magik Markers are often compared to. The album, named after a stone quarry in their hometown which has a “mined trap rock since the earliest days of the city”, sees the band broaden their raw sound with a greater emphasis on mood and atmosphere.
The opener ‘Risperdal’ begins with some impossibly fuzzy, low-end guitars, churning grimily while Ambrogio Patti Smiths-it-up, admirably failing to hit all the notes. With a deliberately scuzzy aesthetic, the song is redolent of the very dingiest gig venues – the distortion and reverb akin to listening to a band play live, but not from the front row but from some suitably piss-soaked, graffiti-defaced toilet cubicle. ‘Don’t Talk in Your Sleep’ features a ball-breaking, PJ Harvey-school diatribe from Ambrogio, over what sounds like the ominous rumblings of a Black Sabbath soundcheck . “Another woman can have the Devil’s face … anything you steal you’re gonna pay for in spades, ” she threatens, over a dank, menacing brew.
The rest of the album varies considerably, veering between the trashy punk of ‘Jerks’ and ‘The Lighter Side Of … Hippies’, and distinctly more abstract pieces. ‘Psychosomatic’ is a wonky ballad with faux-naive guitar plucks, needly fret work and dirge-like drones, with Elisa Ambrogio sounding a study in punk nonchalance. ’7.23′ is a kind of junkyard trip hop blues, all rusty scrapes and metallic clanks, while ‘State Numbers’ is a bleakly funereal piano ballad with an icy wind blowing through it. Punctuated by swampy pulses, there is a sinister, mulchy undercurrent to the latter that recalls Angelo Badalamente’s darker stuff for David Lynch.
‘The Ricercar Of Dr Clara Haber’ is three minutes of fractured guitar dissonance and almost jazzy drum freak outs from Nolan, while ‘Ohio R/Live/Hoosier’ is liltingly discordant blues-rock that sounds like Jefferson Airplane’s live strains drifting out over some mucky late 60s music festival. By contrast the epic closing dirge ‘Shells’ is 10 minutes of almost baroque ambience in which the mists part mid-way for a spectral, folksy visitation by Ambrogio over twinkling piano and what sounds like the pocks of distant fireworks. More than a DIY curiosity but somehow less than a fully satisfying accomplishment, ‘Balf Quarry’ nevertheless assures that the best of Magik Markers is yet to come.