Boss – Magik Markers

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Magik Markers’ ties with underground-rock heavyweights Sonic Youth are hard not to miss. The former act (made up of guitarist Elisa Ambrogio and drummer Pete Nolan) gained their first wide exposure when touring in support of the latter in 2004. Their new record, Boss, is released on (SY guitarist) Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace imprint, and was produced by (other SY guitarist) Lee Ranaldo. In addition, this duo draws much of their influence from the NY No Wave scene of the early 1980s in which SY began. Magik Markers themselves grew out of a similarly abrasive (and oft-misunderstood) wave of music—that of improvisational noise rock.

So it comes as no surprise that Ambrogio & Nolan begin the new record as you would expect any noise band to: wandering aimlessly through a sea of guitar feedback. But a minute in, the beat drops, and we are whisked away into (gasp!) a conventionally structured rock song. This trend of straightforward songwriting continues throughout Boss; a surprising move from a band with a reputation such as theirs. We see Magik Markers cover brand new territory on this record, including 4/4 punk number “Body Rot,” and a pair of ballads (“Empty Bottle” & “Bad Dream/Hartford's Best Suite”) reminiscent of Moon Pix-era Cat Power.

Don’t fret though, experimental music enthusiast—Boss is still weird enough to creep out your little sister. For instance, slow-building psychedelic jam “Last of the Lemach Line” is more than esoteric enough to drive family members out of a room. Ambrogio’s sprawling guitar skronk is very much abundant on this record; it has just been pushed a little farther back in the mix. This allows her singing (which sounds like Patti Smith when she’s trying, like Lydia Lunch when she’s not) to be featured more than on any of the band’s previous work.

Instead of letting the jams run free all over this record, Magik Markers have focused their work into a collection of nine well-crafted tunes, showing more promise here than anywhere else in their catalog. Despite their being put on the map by the well-established Sonic Youth, Magik Markers demonstrate on Boss that when it comes to the delicate noisemaker/songwriter balance, they have a talent all their own.