[18 May 2009]
The formless, noisy mood pieces that comprise mostly any Magik Markers release have always simultaneously been a strength for the duo in regards to their live show, but ran the risk of being seen as a detriment to their work inside the studio. 2007’s BOSS, however, looked to bring them to a slightly higher plateau of sorts, delivering a cohesive sonic statement that, in addition to being a bat-shit crazy, impressively spastic mess, was also rich with the sort of cultural subtext that is rarely created outside of a Blues record.
Mostly, Balf Quarry (Magic Markers’ latest LP) continues along with the BOSS aesthetic. It’s just no wave enough to be completely frustrating and invigorating, but with song writing just insidious enough to bring about a sort of bastardized version of Americana that strives to be a long-lasting institution. The melodic dissonance placed at the forefront of old-world fables and modern mournful cityscapes seems to both separate Balf Quarry from its predecessor, and elevate the former’s pedigree.
Like any Magik Markers album, though, Balf Quarry is hardly an easy listen. It’s mostly in the way that their noise rock posturing can some times get in the way of the more traditional song writing tropes—which are evident, despite the band’s best efforts—and produce varying results. For all of their controlled chaos, sometimes the Magic Markers lack some of the very soul that they would have you nodding your head to.
Primarily, Balf Quarry deals in the manipulation of sound. A jaded cursing of quiet moments, it looks to find the noisy corners and silent pockets of its own existence and shine a spotlight on the forgotten cob webs that have gathered. An almost atonal exercise in anti-pop, Balf Quarry’s only failing comes within its commitment to constantly top its own brashness. It’s the scorched earth policy, and by album’s end, there’s nothing left.
Vocalist/guitarist Elisa Ambrogio spends the LP inside her usual world of discordant riffing and impressively tuneful vocals that can be equal parts striking, soothing, and downright shrill. Meanwhile, drummer Pete Nolan continues to pack an increasingly powerful punch, blending numerous styles—usually at the same time—at the drop of a hat, while having the ease to portray a highly improvisational method as completely seamless. If nothing else, Balf Quarry further solidifies the duo’s position as one of the noise rock resurgence’s most talented bands.
Both lyrically and musically Balf Quarry is as incendiary as anything the Magik Markers have released to date. What it lacks in heart it makes up for in snarling sarcasm, and brutal honesty. It has a tendency to be a little too lost within its thrashing conceits, but if you can’t handle the Magik Markers, you probably should have realized that by now. Balf Quarry is every bit as unique as BOSS, but also works as a logical continuation of that album’s lineage.
Named for a fabled gravel pit outside of Hartford where many a troubled kid met their untimely demise, Balf Quarry feels both intensely structured, and delightfully free-form in its metaphorical confines. Ambrogio is, in essence, speaking to a generation here. However, her thesis is delivered in such a way where you might miss her wisdom as all the venom is being spewed. It ends up coming across as both a strength and a weakness for the album. But, that’s really the thing with Magik Markers: sometimes, you may not know exactly where they are coming from, but something in you makes it necessary to find out just where they are going.