The Magik Markers Balf Quarry

[Drag City; 2009]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: skronk, lo-fi rock, psych rock
Others: Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Sonic Youth, Lydia Lunch

With BOSS, The Magik Markers' 2007 LP on Ecstatic Peace!, many devotees (wrongly) assumed that it was the talons of Thurston Moore that had finally taken Elisa Ambrogio and Pete Nolan by the face, ripping away the sonic junk and angered fuzzed that had been, up until that album, the duo’s calling card. After countless CD-R releases from Pete Nolan’s Arbitrary Signs and a wealth of like-minded albums from a myriad of DIY labels, BOSS was not only an unexpected change of pace, but also a much needed one.

Balf Quarry, the band’s ‘proper’ follow-up and first for Chicago-based Drag City, continues to explore the lighter side of The Magik Markers. Unlike the raw intensity caught on the band’s early LPs and CDs, Balf Quarry -- much like BOSS -- has been crafted with the studio in mind. And also like its Ecstatic Peace! counterpart, Balf Quarry tones down the static violence to once again reveal complex melodies and blinding lyrical honesty.

Elisa and Pete maintain their laissez-faire attitude throughout the album, from the swamp cool of album opener “Risperdal” and its candor talk of muscle car freedom straight through follow-up “Don’t Talk in Your Sleep,” which finds the idealized damsel of “Risperdal” left cold by her man’s two-timing. Even in chastising tone, Elisa keeps calm through the layers of threat: “Don’t talk in your sleep/ Don’t leave a trace/ Because a loving woman can have the devil’s face.” Every song is a story unto itself -- whether documenting Midwestern landscapes in the anti-traditional suite “Ohio R./Live/Indiana,” shaking a finger at the youthful bluster of the Flower Children with “The Lighter Side of…Hippies,” or castrating backstabbers through the “Body Rot” doppelgänger “Jerks.”

But it can at times be hard to shake the Sonic Youth comparisons. The Magik Markers, no doubt, have seemed to follow a similar aesthetic trajectory: the early, angry albums that dare anyone of mainstream taste and fashion to take them on; the tectonic shift to more melody-based songs as notoriety is gained and better recording offers are prospered; and an undying love for continually keeping a foot in the past by cranking out material frothing with a forward-thinking, avant mentality.

But Balf Quarry isn't the game-changer that Daydream Nation has proven to be, nor does it aspire to be. Instead, the central issue at the heart of Balf Quarry is time. With time, we’ve watched a band spread its wings far beyond the typical realms of imagination. We’ve bared witness to a band that has been writing, recording, and touring by their own rules (if any exist). Balf Quarry reflects all of this -- another subtle shift in sound, not ideals. It hits just as furiously and sloppily as all the old Markers standards, no matter its label, run time, or production quality. Sure, they're growing up, in a sense, but they're certainly not growing out of what they do best: splitting skulls with hard riffs, jagged lyrics, and pounding rhythms.

1. Risperdal
2. Don’t Talk in Your Sleep
3. Jerks
4. Psychosomatic
5. 7/23
6. State Numbers
7. The Ricercar of Dr. Clara Haber
8. The Lighter Side of…Hippies
9. Ohio R./Live/Indiana
10. Shells

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