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Magik Markers: Balf Quarry

Magik Markers: Balf Quarry

Label:Drag City
Release Date:2009

By Bret McCabe | Posted 4/29/2009

The Magik Markers days of pinning the ears back and unleashing hell on record have been gone since bassist Leah Quimby left in 2006 and the group congealed into the pair of vox/guitar terrorist Elisa Ambrogio and drummer Pete Nolan, a duo just as likely to ooze mood as mainline havoc. Though Balf Quarry is the band's seventh non-CD-R release (Nolan has released nearly 15 Magik Markers' CD-Rs through his own Arbitrary Signs imprint), it's the first since 2007's Boss helped thrust the group out of the noise-rock basement. Boss announced a sonic shift in sound--somewhat scoffed at by prudish noiseniks reactionary to anything resembling order, but still too unruly for uniformly alternative indie rockers--but it wasn't something as haughty as melody or structure. No, Boss signaled a musical partnership developing something as simple as focus, which matures into Balf Quarry's unsettling achievement.

Not since U.S. Maple's Talker has a band delivered such a controlled outburst of quiet, seething emotions. Talker envisions high school as the ultimate haunted house; Quarry transforms small-city life into Huis Clos, complete with going-nowhere romances, mundane paranoia, and familiar jerks. The good: Engineer/producer Scott Colburn captures Ambrogio's needling, textural guitars and Nolan's roaming percussion as an expansive blanket that envelops the head. The better: The duo find precise use for many of its frenetic fury/freakshow moments inside Quarry's 10 tracks, which move from a meth-hurried insistence to quicksand drones. The great: Ambrogio's voice and lyrics, heretofore a possibly malevolent ghost in the mix, emerge as nuanced forces with bulls-eye aim. From her boomer annihilation in "The Lighter Side of . . . Hippies" ("You had a revolution in your head/ too bad you couldn't make it out of bed") to the haunted love of "7/23" and everyday desperation (the lotto hopes of "State Numbers," where Ambrogio disinterestedly speaks "Luck never gives it only lends/ you just started as a means to an ends"), Ambrogio helps Magik Markers define their times. Punks once whined about having no future; Quarry growls about having no now.

E-mail Bret McCabe

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