If you were up front during aMagik Markersshow in 2004, singer Elisa Ambrogio might have handed you her guitar. And there you'd be, effectively on stage improvising in the eye of a violent noise jam with Pete Nolan going ape on his drums and former bassist Leah Quimby punching her bass beside you. You wouldve been apart of Magik Markers unformatted anti-songs, whose structure and shape could hardly be charted in the moment. They'd maybe make more sense later on one of the over 50 releases they put out on LP, cassette, and CD-R and hawked at the merch table after the show. There was a time when Magik Markers didnt put much stock into the idea of songs, whether as a dialectical comment on performer vs. audience, as an act of political dissidence, or because they simply loved making noise music.
Truth is, they were just being honest. Read any interview with Ambrogio over the years, and one of the recurring themes is an all-eclipsing necessity to tell the truth with her music. Earlier this year, shesaid, telling the truth has the potential when done right to communicate a massive experience: the smaller and more precisely an honest human thing is rendered, is the more common it becomes. This is somewhat tautological (few artists ride hard for lying), and its hardly a revelation in the big scheme of creating art, but the decade-long journey from the early days of Magik Markers toSurrender to the Fantasyis largely about mapping how they express themselves as performers and songwriters. And while intentions can be dubious, what emerges in Magik Markers' first album in almost four years is their formerly hidden songcraft, at once small and precise.
Surrenderhas been fermenting on two-inch in the years following 2009sBalf Quarry. Recorded partially in J Mascis Attic in Amherst, MA, partially at Ambrogio's dads basement in the bands hometown of Hartford, CT, and at many East Coast practice spaces in between, the band takes the focused quality of their recent outputand at long last adds warmth.For all the different environments that Ambrogio, Nolan, and new bassist John Shaw recorded in, they managed to sedate chaos into 45 minutes of form and shape. These are more songs like the band has been making since 2007'sBOSS, but for semantics sake, the band hasnt been writing songs sinceBOSSso much as theyve been better at whittling down what theyve always done, being sure to leave all the knots and lathe marks in the final product.
They've finally and cautiously surrendered themselves fully to melody. Ambrogio opens the album on Crebs singing sweetly, Everything about me feels so free and the following songs stick pretty close to that sentiment. It's a natural step-though, and if you factor in Ambrogios bare songs as200 Years(her collaboration withSix Organs of Admittance's Ben Chasny) and the band's recent friendship with labelmates/tourmates/split-EP-matesSic Alps, the math checks out. Mirrorless has a cool desert look, riding on red-eyed fuzz and reverb, while the beautiful Young features little more than an acoustic guitar and a cello.The tenor of these songs are a far cry away from when Ambrogio sang, This gun was made to pull the trigger in 2007.
All the violence and spit of early Magik Markers now manifests itself in subtler ways than broken amplifiers and feedback squalls. They dip into amphetamine-surf rock with Bonfire, fully booted Neil Young explorations in Acts of Desperation, and shredded Shaggs via closer WT. The heart of the album, however, beats in the near-seven-minute treatise American Sphinx Face. Like Patti Smith and Kathleen Hanna before her, Ambrogio's fearless stream of conscious delivery is a coil of surrealism, politics, and intense love.Whereas much ofSurrendertakes a more conventional lyrical approach (the pointed platitude of Youth goes, The worst part about being young/ Is thinking nothing ever comes), Ambrogio's words on American Sphinx Face are delivered unsung, unadorned behind some proto-Markers psych-improvisation. I intend to be loved and see how it goes, she says dryly. As the noise of the song grows wider and wider, Ambrogio sharpens her tongue: In America every man is a king/ No good king but a dead king. The towering song gives shape and meaning to the tender pieces that surround it.
The risk to explore more pedestrian formsto lay bare songs into the common world of structure, hushed melodies, and harmoniesgivesSurrendera varied topography. The tiny moments of vulnerability in Ambrogio's voice or Nolan's barely-there drumming are buoyed by their noisy nature and their surreal sketches. More than any Markers record before it, the trio seem to be communicating deep within the subconscious, tapping into soul that's been hiding behind the noise for years.Surrendercould be viewed as a kind of acquiescence to plots and narratives, the kind Ambrogio was so opposed to when she started the band, back when chaos ruled. But to me this is leaning closer toward a more universal expression told in the Markers' own waya set of honed truths that communicate on grand scales.