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Balf Quarry  

By Magik Markers. Drag City.

click to enlarge balf-quarry.jpg

"What if you play guitar the way a girl jerks off?" asks left-handed six string slinger and singer Elisa Ambrogio, one half of the noisy free rock duo Magik Markers. The duo's most recent release, Balf Quarry displays an alarming, compelling and sultry sound.

Relentlessly improvising in all the right ways, M/M have exchanged their lengthy feedback jams for short but sweet blasts of sonic thunder complemented with brilliant moments of Elisa's steady streams of poetic charm. Pete Nolan has perfected the art of skin smashing, tom torture and cymbal destruction. The album rarely repeats itself; each tune embodies a unique identity and keeps begging for the next dynamic twist and bend, rambling around in a directionless pathway like an unsolvable puzzle.

Having toured with Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr., M/M offer a crown jewel of special intelligence that brings the listener to an introversion of infinite depth. I recollect a Starving Weirdos house show out by the Samoa dunes a few years back: Magik Markers captivating the crowd through primordially confrontational antics fueled by Ambrogio's fuzzy finger-plucking distortion. Pete slashed through a borrowed drum set as though it was his own. At that time a three-piece with gypsy-looking bassist Leah Quimby, her thick bass strings tuned to the lowest dissonant tone possible, playing with an indifference and nonchalance rivaling no-wave martyrs DNA. Even as a duo, M/M has the same depth and power.

Somewhere between arriving and departing, Balf Quarry exudes the feel of driving cross-country, where dusty roads wind endlessly and the scenery is always temporary. Themes of loneliness, risk, debt and guns occur over Elisa's lyrics. "Don't talk in your sleep, don't you leave a trace / because another woman can have the Devil's face / I don't want to be mean, but I'm not afraid / anything you steal baby you'll pay for in spades," she sings in a schizophrenic tone, continuing with "You had a revolution in your head, too bad you couldn't make it out of bed / Cokeheads sayin' teach your children well and wondering now how it all went to hell" on the track "The Lighter Side of ... Hippies."

The nature of the gamble is explained as she says "I'm not playing numbers anymore; the odds are against me for sure. / Tell me God's playing dice; I could use ’em being nice. / Luck never gives, it only lends. / You've been starting as a means to an end."

Studio magic changes the Markers' primitive ways -- the 10-minutes-long closing drone "Shells" features piano, organ and violin all played in an unorthodox fashion, evoking a dark atmospheric meditation. Overall, Balf Quarry serves as a testament of a band who over the past eight years and 33 releases have carved their niche and solidified a style that is remarkably their own.

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  • By Magik Markers. Drag City.

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Steven De Rosa

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