PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Magik Markers: Surrender to the Fantasy

After four years off, Magik Markers return with a dark, compelling album that demonstrates the power of good sequencing to craft its own narrative

Magik Markers

Surrender to the Fantasy

Label: Drag City
Release Date: 2013-11-19

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. But there is something a little mysterious at its core, something that resists easy analysis.

Part of it, I think, is the sequencing. There are probably at least as many good ways to sequence an album as there are good albums, but sequencing choices can be immediately gratifying or ‘growers’ just as much as individual songs can be. Surrender to the Fantasy is in the latter mold. The title is a reference to the way, to quote the band’s Elisa Ambrogio, “nobody would make art if they were sensible, logical, or responsible,” but it also points to the way this album is going to take its own path. It’s an often languid, haunted record; many of the descriptors that the band have attracted in the past (“fiery,” “noise,” even “improv”) don’t apply nearly as much. And yet it’s also, or still, a record of gloriously trashy sounding guitar-and-drums noise.

In fact, the record frontloads the latter aspect of the band’s sound, so that the first time through you might think you’ve got Surrender to the Fantasy all figured out by the time the brash, bratty “Bonfire” shakes and groans itself to a halt. Before that, “Crebs” is head-thrown-back, rapturous fuzz, and “Acts of Desperation” paces its twang to a muted, constant kick drum. The rest of the album could have existed inside the parameters set up by those three tracks and been perfectly compelling, but instead “Mirrorless” begins the process of blowing up the album you might have thought you were hearing.

The whole sounds like it’s being heard through gauze or maybe masking tape, the drums maybe coming from underwater, Ambrogio murmuring “I was the ghost and the flesh and the bramble” while the rest of the track gracefully arcs around here. It’s strong, but it’s a very different kind of strength than what came before it, much less overt. If Magik Markers went back to noisier or more aggressive sounds after it, it would still be a good song, but instead it serves as a kind of bridge.

From there, the band almost seem to deconstruct themselves; the great “American Sphinx Face,” the thematic heart of the album, keeps with the muted but surprisingly compelling production, riding a slow bass pulse and grinding guitar for what feels like it could be forever while Ambrogio torches the idea that arrogance and selfishness is the same thing as patriotism. “In America, every man is a king. No good king but a dead king… History can only judge what it sees. The rich have the cash to stay clean. I’m American, but I can dream” is strong medicine, and if the song didn’t seem to be raging from a distance it might not hit as hard. Instead, it’s nothing less than the even-worse-vibes sibling/flipside/dark twin of EMA’s “California,” another celebration and indictment of the land they find themselves in.

“American Sphinx Face” is a great song, but it’s almost enervating; to follow it up with first the harmonium ballad “Young” (“the worst part about being young is thinking nothing, thinking nothing ever comes…”) and then the sinister, abstract “Empire Building” is to plummet the listener off a cliff. The droning “Screams of Birds and Girls” and the closing “WT,” recorded after a couple of beers in the best possible sense, are less a triumphant conclusion than a pulling back into the land of the living after that. There are times Surrender to the Fantasy seems to be trying to tunnel through rock music to get at the void in the centre of it, in the centre of everything; in order to get its full power and pull, you do have to surrender to it, go with the music as it slows and darkens in the middle. It’s possible that this record would make more immediate sense if that core was spread more evenly throughout, but it would also lose something. It’s hard to know at first what to make of a record that take such a pronounced left turn after it’s seemingly established itself, but as in music as in more obviously narrative arts like television, some of the richest rewards can be found in those turns.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.