2006: The Magik Markers Scrapbook
Scattering their ashes in 2006

Goddamn -- if Elisa Ambrogio and Pete Nolan started the world ablaze in 2005, they scattered its ashes in 2006. Leah Quimby quit The Magik Markers early in the year, but Ambrogio and Nolan waived the crossed-out-triple-bar symbol high. This year, the band seemed re-energized, inspired, and ready to live up to the blitzkrieg of good press it received in 2005.

Of course, this means The Magik Markers just improved upon its old heady tricks. I don't know if she kisses her mother with them sailor lips, but Elisa sure spits some inspired post-Beat, stream-of-consciousness poetry when the moon is up and the bar lights are dimmed. Shards of feedback, drone, and fractured chords sprout from Elisa's doctored guitar. Breaking the third wall, Elisa often uses the audience to her advantage, letting them surround her and strum her guitar to heighten the sense of bedlam. Nolan keeps the band grounded, doing the rhythm-devil thing on his pimped kit. At times, Nolan threw dynamite into the fire with tape loops and pre-recorded hiss. Newly added axe-slinger Steve Gunn also threw down some meaty, dissonant guitar riffage for the Markers' summer tour.

Somewhere amidst the chaos of their performances, someone pressed record on a boom box, and proper representations of the Markers' life-affirming live show became available to the public in 2006. Three proper full-lengths, three tour CD-Rs, two reissues, and a limited-edition cassette on Fuck-It-Tapes hit shelves, bins, and tour merchandise stands. A cross-country tour with the mighty Lambsbread and tour of Europe ensured many TMT staffers a chance to bask in the glory of a 20+ minute Magik Markers set. As we try and wrap our heads around the music of 2006, a handful of us TMT staffers would like to share our thoughts on the concerts, recorded output, and nut-punches that The Magik Markers threw at us this year. To some of us, this was indeed the year of the Marker.

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Road Pussy [Arbitrary Signs] by Paul Haney

It's rather interesting that my first impression of the Markers (back in 2004 opening for Sonic Youth) was that they were distinctly and almost exclusively anti-musical, because the gorgeously haunting piano ballad "Bad Dream" and backwoods BK "I'm High" on the Road Pussy CD-R are not only the antithesis of how most of us initially or still view the Markers, but stunningly suggest that they can write and perform actual songs that are of much higher quality than a self-proclaimed indie troubador. If the Markers playing low-key isn't exactly your cup-of-tea, the instrumental guitar-abuse fest of "Summer" and Elisa-howling-over-fast-paced-sludge genius on "Chicago Life (Blows)" give what you came here for. And the title track is also the greatest quasi-commercial since that secret Built To Spill track on There Is Nothing Wrong With Love. "Jesus shit! That was a bitch burger!" will be pasted on homemade t-shirts forever.

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05-16-06 [The Luminaire; London, UK]
by Squeo

This was the most disastrous show I've ever seen. When the Markers first get on stage, Elisa loudly announces that her guitar is broken, and that the show will not go on unless someone else lends her a guitar. Birds of Delay bequeath theirs unto her, and within minutes of plugging it in, she's broken that one too. "Really sorry, guys," she says, as the audience awkwardly chuckles. After a bit of fidgeting, she gets the guitar working again, but by now, Pete's drum mics have started to come loose and Leah's amp is refusing to stay plugged in. Twenty minutes of technical problems later, they're pissed off and ready to jam. Except for Leah. She's so pissed off, she's already left the stage, never to come back. Elisa pulls the microphone close to her face and says, "This is a song about the desert."

I'll miss Leah too, but damn, those two tear the place down that night, and hardly anyone is there to appreciate it. At the start of their set, the bar is packed, and by the last song there are, at most, ten scumbags left in the building, myself included. I won't say that clearing a room is necessarily a virtue, but it at least says something about their combined intensity on stage. Five minutes into one of the songs, Elisa plucks a single note over and over in a certain way that makes me think of Funkadelic's Maggot Brain, where the dude was told to play like his momma just died, except here she's playing like she's the momma. The set ends abruptly when an employee approaches Elisa and tells her to stop playing, but it's right before they were about to launch into another song. Elisa had just pulled the microphone down to the ground to introduce it: "This is a Shirley Collins cover." Face it, people. Markers rule.

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For Sada Jane [Textile]
by Matt Weir

It's the brashest Magik Markers release to date, for the very reasons most bands never get the word “brash” attached to their name. Half this disc claps like thunder, but the other half falls like rain, trading in yells and feedback for acoustic guitars and coos. The thunder half makes good on the promise of the fan-boy excitement the Markers have drawn from their tell-your-friends live shows and "proper" releases; the rain half makes good on the promise of the first track ("Bad Dreams") of the Road Pussey tour CD-R. To flashback to that early 2006 gem — oh yeah, year of the Markers, indeed — it was a bare piano and Elisa vocally tripping over it, barely composing and more affecting for it. Here, on half of For Sada Jane, they take a similar approach but instead brim with confidence.

First, the burners: “Blind White Alligators” starts with Elisa spinning old records and letting them whisper-echo under hollow no-tones (which, of course, fan out in their own reverberating patterns). It's a debilitating way to start a record -- even for this band -- and three minutes in the song, it all finally makes sense, at least in The Magik Markers framework: blistering guitars howling around wordless vocals and a furious, yet dry drum beat. “Infinite Regress,” as noted on the package, is the only track with the band in “traditional formation,” meaning ex-member Leah Quimby on bass, Elisa Ambrogio on vocals and guitar, and Pete Nolan on drums. It's my favorite lyrical moment of the band yet, with such scene-rippers as: “What do you want to be? The creator? Or what he creates?” and “Or do you want to get a series of shitty haircuts in public and marry Laurie Anderson?” Nice.

Now, the hissers: “Dance Upon the Stream” is all howl and space, with bright distortion blanketing a rhythmically plucked acoustic guitar. It has the smoky feel of Six Organs of Admittance, and the repetitive patience of the track suggests Pete and Elisa don't see their fans doing spit-takes in surprise. “Shabbetai Tzevi/1666” is a monster of a folker, with Elisa giving an inspired forest-hippie take with lyrics so captivating they are printed right on the CD sleeve. It's got strum, it's got howl, and it's got soul. It's proof the Markers are here to rock the rest of their lives, not just for 2006.

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Inverted Belgium [Hospital]
by S. Kobak

Sometimes even underground demigods falter. This limited-edition LP is actually a re-release of a far superior CD-R chronicling a gig from 05-09-05 in Belgium. Dominick Fernow (a.k.a. Prurient) remixed the tapes, and the whole thing sounds like a trainwreck... literally. Elisa's vocals are pushed back in favor of herky-jerk wails from her guitar, and Pete's drumming and Leah's bass line converge into a blur of locomotive sounds. While the original recording was of questionable quality, it captured the spontaneous freak energy of the gig. This was, after all, the infamous gig in which Elisa got her GG Allin on and bloodied her face. This recording sacrifices the spirit of the band for a snapshot of the moment and, in the process, captures plenty of blood but no heart.

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06-27-06 [Record Bar; Kansas City, MO]
by S. Kobak

“Where's Leah?” various crowd members asked each other as Elisa and Pete appeared onstage with some scruffy blonde-haired dude. Halfway through the set, the answer was a resounding, “Who cares?” Steve Gunn, a member of GHQ, nailed it, adding venomous, swirling guitar moans to ground Elisa's anarchistic string molestation. The trio engaged in a lengthy skronk jam before Elisa broke out with some Dadaist vocal chants and poetic approximations of dreamscapes. Per usual, the most astonishing visual aspects of the show came from Elisa's resourceful noise-making. Shoving a mic down yr throat and moaning while using a beer bottle as a guitar slide just doesn't seem like a viable sound-assault-creator option to most modern noisemakers. At the peak of the set, Elisa dove into the audience, letting three men and a woman toy with her guitar as she held the mic in two hands. The band's frenzy spread to the audience, and for a brief while, the glossy Record Bar setting was swarmed by uptown filth.

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A Panegyric to the Things I Do Not Understand [Gulcher]
by Paul Haney

At least in my world, it's near impossible to call anything the Markers release "proper." They're a band that can afford to be prolific, and their documentation of most every step they've taken has been more cleansing and fulfilling than, say, Sufjan Stevens' outtake heaving. Even the band's first actual factory-pressed CD is a rather unassuming event on the surface, perhaps begetting it as a proper release. In a cardboard sleeve complete with pretty unscrupulous track info and no inserts, Panegyric's presentation is as minimal as you can hope to get, save if they didn't even include track information. Over two 20-minute-plus "sides," Panegyric can perhaps be considered "proper" in that it's some of the strongest, highest-fiest, and brutal noise-rawk filth the trio has given us yet. And admist all the no-chord guitar fucking, speed-freak drum clatter, and Burroughs-meets-Darby Crash poetics, it's pretty impossible to call anythign on this gem "proper." Luckily, this one seems to be sticking around longer than the limited-edition fetish of the avant-ground, making it perfect for those still missing the boat. And face it, by now, the Markers should be molesting your ear-drums somewhere on your playlist. Hell, Panegyric made enough records in my collection seem silly in comparison that it made #2 on my yearly list.

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06-21-06 [Empty Bottle; Chicago, IL]
by Matt Weir

It was Elisa, Pete, and two other duders on guitars. Two guitarists to replace the bassist? Nice. They used them all upfront too, starting with a howling feedback jam that I thought was the devil's pager blowin' up until Elisa started singing. She smiled, looked wistfully to the ceiling, and strummed a little, as some particularly joyful free-verse spilled out of her shaking head. It was a wistful song! The Magik Markers turned piercing feedback into whimsy! YES!!! What followed was pure forward momentum. One guitarist strummed faster and faster the whole show and the other continuously slammed on it like it was brakes. How Pete veers garage rock drumming into spiritual raga backbeats I'll never know. It just happens all the time. Elisa found herself in all kinds of positions and situations, my favorite being: her hair in front of her face and the guitar dangling and her hands opened and summoning the audience forward in a if-you-fight-me-you-might-die pose. She knocked over her glass, and it shattered at my feet. I actually had the urge to roll around in it.

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Feel the Crayon [Not Not Fun]
by Matt Weir

Minus two tracks. That's the first thing you have to consider here for the vinyl re-issue of Feel the Crayon. “Just a Child” and “Fuck You” are gone. Not Not Fun did it for “length/sound quality purposes,” but why cut off two perfectly good tracks — especially “Just a Child” — in order to re-release an album and thus pay homage to it? (Also: isn't it strange to hear the phrase “sound quality purposes” in conjunction with a Magik Markers release?) Their loss is our loss — actually, my loss because I paid for it — but still, it's no secret that the double-dragon two-parter “Hero of Our Times” is the reason for the season here. It's anti-rock rock that rocks so hard you believe in rock again. And it's too bad this vinyl cuts that one in half, forcing said listener to wipe the Dorito cheese off his or her hands and flip the disc right when it's time to shake on the ground along with Nolan's can-whomps. It all goes to prove that for this release, vinyl is an anachronism. It's unnecessary. So what if it's a sick purple-and-pink and there's some rad artwork from George W. Myers of Grey Skull on the cover and a piece of paper put into the packaging? Just buy the CD-R version instead. It's still in print. Wait a minute... IT'S STILL IN PRINT?!

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If It's Not a Ford It Sux [Arbitrary Signs]
by Squeo

The first track on this one kicks my ass so hard I'm not even going to worry about hyperbole while I describe it. When I put this on, the world does a backflip, my jaw drops, and I just sit there like a rotting vegetable for 20 minutes. Then I get up and start it over again. There are literally thousands of moments on this track alone worth mentioning. Don't believe me? Dig: (1) Opening guitar writhing like a siren, Elisa wailing like a Siren. (2) "We keep weapons stockpiled as insurance," spoken like she very seriously means it, followed by (3) Total breakdown into the slipperiest barbed-wire jam of all time. (4) As it gets louder and louder, Elisa proselytizing: "I heard those trumpets blow/ I heard the wailing wall of Jericho," followed by (5) "Blow, Gabriel!" followed by (6) Indescribable yelp. This is about halfway through the song. I'll just give a couple more, because I need to go lie down. (7) Furious assertion of the DIY method: "Jesus? Buddha? Second rate! Cuz if they were first rate, we never would've heard of them!" (8) "Words that click like locks/ Words that tick like tocks." (9-1000) "I had a dream I was the troubadour of my generation." Other tracks better show how the Markers are musically superb; this one just proves that Elisa Ambrogio is Bob Dylan. (Oh, and those other two tracks are pretty cool, too.)

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09-0?-06 [Weslyan University; Middletown, CT]
by S. Kobak

Phase III Markers debuted the night before in Brooklyn with an invigorating, sometimes choppy set from the Pete/Elisa duo. Spooky tape loops/found-sound tidbits filled in any void left in the sound. The night after at Weslyan University in Middletown, CT, the band seemed reborn. Facing a crowd of college indie dudes in ironic sweaters and thick-framed glasses sitting Indian style, Elisa and Pete unleashed the same sonic vengeance that typifies any Markers show. This time around, ambient passages felt welcome and the band segued in and out of their cacophony at will. In all, it was a more fluid set than the one in Brooklyn, but whatever energy the band put forth was sucked dry by the lackadaisical audience. Who sits through a Magik Markers set? Apparently, the trust fund kidz of Weslyan University do. As the set ended with a minimal noise jam and fading guitar fuzz, Elisa broke into a free-form poem, grabbed a jug of Carlo Rossi, and force-fed audience members from the spout. The purple-red liquid spilled down the shirt of every person subjected to Elisa's frat-chug stage antics, including myself. Afterwards, she apologized, and I told her it was no problem. I'd drink to a great Markers set any day. Many of the trust fund kids were not as thrilled.