Release Date: Nov 19, 2013
Record label: Drag City
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Experimental Rock, Noise-Rock
It has been a long time since they rocked and/or rolled. Four years in fact. And if you’re of the type who craves the primal, abrasive kind of rock and roll perpetuated by the Markers, this is a crime and a genuine loss to humanity. Up until 2009, MM dug into the earth and up with handfuls of CD-Rs and albums filled with psych dirges and blistering odes to wandering souls.
I first listened to Magik Markers because my friend told he couldn’t decide whether he was enjoying them or not. I think most music fans get a pretty steady stream of recommendations and general opinions from their peers, but “have you heard this? I don’t know what to make of it” is intriguing in a way no praise can be. I’m pretty sure he wound up liking Surrender to the Fantasy; I know I did.
For most of the 2000s, Magik Markers were one of the underground's most prolific bands, issuing a steady stream of singles, CD-Rs, and albums that culminated with 2009's Balf Quarry, which felt a little like a sampler of all the sounds they'd explored up to that point. They fell largely silent for the next four years, spreading out from their former Connecticut home base and starting families; when they returned with Surrender to the Fantasy, they were a gentler, slightly more focused band. Elisa Ambrogio, Pete Nolan, and John Shaw expand upon the drifting rock that wrapped around Balf Quarry's tangents like a psychedelic fog on these hazy, off-handed excursions: the opening track, "Crebs," almost feels like it starts mid-song, while "Acts of Desperation"'s slightly atonal moments don't dislodge its shambling groove.
If you were up front during a Magik Markers show in 2004, singer Elisa Ambrogio might have handed you her guitar. And there you'd be, effectively on stage improvising in the eye of a violent noise jam with Pete Nolan going ape on his drums and former bassist Leah Quimby punching her bass beside you. You would’ve been apart of Magik Markers’ unformatted anti-songs, whose structure and shape could hardly be charted in the moment.
Some bands sweat away in the studio for four years perfecting their high-hat sound. Others take a long rest before reassembling to swiftly bash out an album in somebody's soggy basement. Magik Markers sit firmly in the latter category (or at least sound like it), and if slickness is your bag they're not for you. .
Just like the pens of translucent ink they’re named after, Magik Markers are essentially an encryption device. Beginning with 2005’s I Trust My Guitar, Etc., the Connecticut three-piece/former duo has spent its prolific lifespan distilling the absurdity of human existence into cabalistic slurries of incendiary noise, translating the purported rationality of civilization into tangles and torrents of feedback that slip through the hands of easy interpretation. Most of their (18?!) albums up to this point have been attempts to encode their selves into almost unreadable epigrams of dissonance and kipharaphobia1, messages in bottles intended only for the select few with the ingenuity and endurance to read them.
Magik Markers have come a long way from the nearly formless noise of their recent past. In a video from a 2005 show at the Flywheel in Easthampton, MA, vocalist/guitarist Elisa Ambrogio discussed her approach to guitar: “[I hear] you know, ‘It might as well be a dick in your hands, you’re jerking it off.’ And, so I was like, what if you played guitar the way a girl jerks off?” The video then smash cuts to a near unintelligible explosion of drums and feedback, Ambrogio on the ground, smashing a microphone into her guitar. Since 2007’s Boss, though, those masturbatory noise eruptions have been supplanted in part by more approachable songs.
After four years away from action (save for Pete Nolan's fabulously underrated Spectre Folk side project), Magik Markers return with Surrender To The Fantasy, a sprawling distillation of folk noise and unhinged verse over the course of nine disparate songs. Neu! fuzz-groove? Sunkissed anti-folk? Truxian curled lip, bummer vibes? Settle in, fellow traveller. The first blush of many past encounters (over the course of 40-some singles, cassettes, and burns) with Magik Markers has been one of sheer onslaught, a cathartic dive into the depths of Elisa Ambrogio's quest towards the real — which always seemed to aim for confrontation vs.
Over a decade on from their first releases, Magik Markers don’t really sound any better do they? Wait…I don’t mean that they’re a rubbish band, oh no. The core duo of Elisa Ambrogio and Pete Nolan have always plied a fine trade in ramshackle noise-rock, slowly transforming from their Sonic Youth inspired beginnings through a series of CD-Rs to the band we have now: simpler, self-contained but still burning, ready to burst apart at any moment. It’s just that it’s always sounded like Ambrogio and Nolan were recording into a bucket, down a drain somewhere The albums BOSS and Balfe Quarry signalled the start of a change; grooves came into focus, the fuzz and noise subsided a bit (of course they kept the reverb) and Magik Markers began to become a really excellent psych rock act.
Even though Magik Markers have put out more than 50 releases, including 28 studio albums, in over a decade, it’s only in the last few years that they’ve focused on proper songs. The group’s blistering brand of noise-rock works perfectly in a live setting, but their sprawling approach doesn’t always translate well to record. Perhaps that’s why, since around 2007’s BOSS, the trio’s albums have become increasingly melodic and song-oriented.
Since their inception in 2001, Hartford, CT’s Magik Markers have put out a ballpark figure of 50 LPs, cassettes and CD-Rs. Fifty! That’s partly the result of a “sounds good enough” mentality, but it’s also because MM never really seemed to be writing songs so much as immediately recording whatever popped into their heads. Noise often trumped melody, and their guitars screeched and scabbed and thonked in ways that seemed unwieldy, if not dangerous.