Magik Markers
Boss
2007
B



and then they were two. Bassist Leah Quimby turns in her badge, ditching her job as veritable sonic-glue, a mischievous adhesive for her cantankerous counterparts forever reluctant to set. Left behind are vocalist/guitarist Elisa Ambrogio and drummer/pianist, etc. Pete Nolan, who now have to work extra hard to kick up the squalling sorts of anti-song that earlier incarnations of the band rattled automatically off the cuff. But Ambrogio and Nolan tap the unexpected, changing the program altogether; eschewing unstructured freedom for somewhat startling linear rockers.

Improvisational music’s unspoken probability: “building sounds”—the hammering blind clacking clatter of instant composition—can, and will, eventually stand down, lock in, and relax in agreement; drums and guitar and voice reconfigured as a whole instead of competing components shrieking like a station-wagon full of chimpanzees, their pricks freshly shorn from their furry little laps. When one is given a couple of “linear rockers” to compare and contrast, every element glitters and glares and repeated listens keep no secrets. First up: Jesus Fucking Christ, are Nolan's beats annoyingly recycled. His snare/kick-drum combos often sound as indifferent machine programs, plodding ahead ostensibly out of sidelined instruction. No amount of increasing or decreasing tempo can hide the fact that he’s drawing from a shallow well here, and it’s easy to imagine him enjoying—and benefiting—from a lack of song structure.

The fortunate counterpoint is Ambrogio's vocals: recognizably refined, less apt to slither into the ecstatic Blood & Fucking fixation of yore, confident with clarity, but no less lusty, unstable, and molten. Lyrics stay within the locus of her patently indirect pools of psycho-babbling kozmic blues—deep, black, whirling holes of coitus and religion, popular and unpopular culture, the reified and free of form. Twigs and rocks, locks and vices; black men and movie star blonds; pin-fed camel's heads, hypocrites and ghosts, judgment day and secular Pentecost; paradise and hell and rot and decay; teeth, bones, eyes, mouths and tongues; depravity, disease and shake seize: these are her subjects and predicates; a peculiar—and often primeval—word bank drawn on and prejudicially cashed the fuck out. Their syntax handled in a gut heaving, sweat slick rush; a voice of experience soft-tempered by the bonnet-wearing best sotto voce of "Empty Bottles" and "Bad Dream/Hartford's Best Suite."

Bogus ass-shaking, mic-wrangling wank has got its share of issues. To wit: overtly sexual music—outside of jiggling gobs of hot buttered soul—has a short shelf life. Fatigue is to be feared, and the ears can only take so many slow-purred vowels before they're reduced to an over-ripened mess. Ambrogio never rushes, however, and keeps athletic money-shots either at the three-quarter mark or the justifiable end. (e.g. "Axis Mundi" throbs and roils in a sated blush: "I left my stink like a mink's dead gland / All over your mouth, all over your hand.") "Taste" documents and laments: "He had tasted her, tasted her / Smiled right into the base of her / He kept racing her, racing her / And stayed alive, outpacing her." Delivery is king, and it's paced perfectly, tongue-laved and consciously cleaned, rolled noisily around the molars and soundly devoured. "Empty Bottles" works an effortless antithesis; alabaster innocence, as sweetly fleeting as Velvet Underground's "After Hours" or the Circle Jerks' "Another Broken Heart for Snake." The perfect piece for the little darling legion to roll its ennui into, or the twosome’s finest achievement or record, “Empty Bottles” encapsulates and obfuscates—doing all and nothing for those that happen to hear it.

Outside of the flagrant and wholly enjoyable cum-rag antics, a thick film of reincarnation rests at the surface. Connect-the-dots comparisons to relative contemporaries are justifiable only in that the whole of Boss is littered with their atavistic echo. Some are only in tone: a marriage of Mazzy Star's disconnected ache and the Doors' stunted urban mythos. Others are fractured—and often funny—musical transliterations: "Last of the Lemach Line" a "Bullet the Blue Sky" for Nolan and Ambrogio to cogently ventilate. "Bad Dream…" is every Flying Saucer Attack song scrubbed clean of its squelch, so on and so forth… Sure, Sonic Youth's influence was always undeniable; with Boss, the elders ostensibly take an even more hands-on approach as Lee Ranaldo lends production expertise as well as guitar and glockenspiel to a few tracks. No surprise then that "Four/The Ballad of Harry Angstrom" comes off as a folk-fried Bad Moon Rising outtake with its lost weekend thematic and worn instrumentation that slips away into an asphalt and chrome desert in futile search of more Golden Age bullshit.

Some of these songs palpably struggle, voice and guitar and percussion straining for importance. Others are able and potent right the fuck out of the chute. They’ll likely be taken to task for “cleaning up” and straightening an unruly nest of song-craft. Not from this critic: these are just good goddamned growing pains, ideas worked out of frustration and dissatisfaction, restlessness running the sound into a different sonic ditch. None of these songs truly sound fully-formed, able and confident, but all of them have their “moments,” and some of them do come crashing down like a tidal wave of yearbook memories: beer-breath’d tonsil hockey, pilfered liquor cabinets, gloriously stoned wintertime skinny-dipping. Magik Markers—forever feverishly connected to imagined or actual experience—truly is a band of recondite youth, a wellspring of hang-ups and fixations and imperfection; a fuckup at the wheel with no destination. Tantrums thrown, reconciliations botched, friends and family and strangers embarrassed or addled—these are bona fide impressions gleaned from the music they make. And when emotion truly bedevils sound, benign magic is born.



Reviewed by: Stewart Voegtlin
Reviewed on: 2007-09-13
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