Magik Markers

BOSS

(Ecstatic Peace!; 2007)

By Mark Abraham | 1 December 2007

Yuh huh. So, Magik Markers have doffed the noisy awesome in favor of a…different awesome? I mean, it’s not as awesome, really—I can’t deploy the ugly/cute dichotomy I used for A Panegyric to Things I Do Understand (2006) since BOSS is not nearly as ugly and cute—but the way BOSS sets up road flares like a burning map landmarked with every proto-noise and proto-punk group that proceeds them is.charming? Recipe: slice “Careful with that Axe, Eugene” in half, throw Jonathan Richman and the Stooges inside, dress in MC5 apparel, rock out with Marc Bolan, and finally embrace that Sonic Youth fetish we’ve all been hearing about by throwing Lee Renaldo at the helm.

Essentially, all the yummy noise bits that free ranged through old school Magik Markers have here been drawn and quartered inside intro, bridge, and outro sections pasted onto songs. In a way, it makes Elisa Ambrogio’s wicked guitar far more confrontational, spinning hardcore riffs and out technique against each other in a zero sum game of chance. “The Last of the Lemach Line,” for example, plays on her droney chord phrasings, Pete Nolan stuttering his drums to add to the woozy effect. Imagine the Charalambides with a drummer, perhaps, or the Doors at their most outré. “Four/The Ballad of Harry Angstrom” pulls a similar trick, adding clanging piano to one of Nolan’s more interesting snare-led beats as Ambrogio drones overtop about “secular” whatevers, a repeated lyric throughout. She is apparently a lot of “secular” things, though what that means is confusing, and disappointing given that I thought she was so absolutely incisive with so few words in the past. At least opener “Axis Mundy” is much more direct: a screaming barrage of feedback undercuts the relative simplicity of the song to drive its fuzzy couplets home.

Which raises another problem: I mean, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Magik Markers’ compositional skills weren’t their drawing point. What they were good at was delivery, and BOSS only serves to prove that this might be all they were good at. Many of the songs here only really serve the purpose of reining the band’s more eccentric tendencies in; in other words, instead of taking a very minimal set of ideas and stretching them into 20-minute catastrophes, BOSS sees the band struggling to spice up fairly innocuous ideas. In fact, the best songs are the ones that sound nothing like the band at all. “Empty Bottles” is a pretty piano piece; mired in the high-mid/low-high EQ of the album, it provides an interesting space where the relatively simplistic beauty is constantly trying to escape a mess of flubbed chord fingerings and Renaldo’s Fischer Price glockenspiel solo. “Taste” is a fuzz-box wet dream; the song is sonically far less interesting than the other tracks on the album, but it’s the best written here. Which, on BOSS, basically means it has a melody. “Bad Dream/Hartford’s Beat Suite” is a pretty little acoustic number that is primarily interesting because it features acoustic guitars.

But beyond these select numbers we essentially get several takes on the same fuzz, inflating a Stooges balloon with Patti Smith’s intonation and hoping that shit don’t pop. “Circle” closes the album with a bunch of bullshit noise that bores before it blooms. “Pat Garette” is a pale shadow of the band’s former aggressive punch lines, aside from the Billy the Kid reference. “Body Rot” is the most Sonic Youth-y track here, but beyond recognizing that comparison I can’t seem to form another opinion on it. And, really, that’s disappointing. I don’t begrudge the band’s desire to move on from their sometimes childish (but awesomely so) maneuvers and expand their palette, but many of these track are incredibly weak in composition. Equally problematic, though, is the tone: the kind of music they’ve attempted to embrace—this Jim Morrison monologue-via-Detroit—is one essentially devoid of humor once you’ve peeled back the song titles. Which means the quirky approach to noise that I so loved is here reduced to a serious-as-death attempt to push noise into thick boundaries of calculated solemnity. They could save weak songs with fun production, which they sometimes sort of do, or they could save the dreary tone with some levity. Where these two problems intersect is where the album deflates into a decent fuzz-rock pastiche, which: whatever. This was a band I thought was going to destroy the world.