Since their inception in 2001, Hartford, CT’s Magik Markers have put out a ballpark figure of 50 LPs, cassettes and CD-Rs. Fifty! That’s partly the result of a “sounds good enough” mentality, but it’s also because MM never really seemed to be writing songs so much as immediately recording whatever popped into their heads. Noise often trumped melody, and their guitars screeched and scabbed and thonked in ways that seemed unwieldy, if not dangerous. But the sheer Olympian size of their output also means that the band has been able to reinvent itself in subtle ways. 2007’s Boss was the band’s first step into easier-on-the-ears accessibility, and 2009’s Balf Quarry trailed similarly along those lines, shedding its excess and wallowing in loud simplicity.
Now we have Surrender To The Fantasy. John Shaw has taken over bass duty for Leah Quimby, Pete Nolan is still drumming like his wrists are weighted down by the world, and Elisia Ambrogio has figured out a way to split her time between raw, fire-burned gnarls and hushed breathiness while still mashing away at her six-string. Because of this, Surrender To The Fantasy volleys back and fourth in the dim, unexcavated space between unintelligible noise and pop lullabies.
The album’s first two tracks, Crebs and Acts Of Desperation are practically soporific. They’re still noisy, but the noise comes from a lulling background buzz nearly drowned out by Ambrogio’s woozy, heavy-lidded vox. But immediately following that, Bonfire gets back to the yalping, dry desperation of 2006’s A Panegyric To The Things I Do Not Understand. Cult-like chanting is matched with ghastly humming and drums that sound like someone’s just punching them with bare fists. Then Mirrorless mellows out once again with hollow percussion and near back-porch vocals. It’s so sunny, with just barely a smirking threat of tambourine hovering over the track.
During American Sphinx Face, Ambrogio drawls, “In America, every man’s a king,” in a bored monotone. The dry humor of the line is only exacerbated by the crushing slab of din crumbling in the background. The track ends will a few stunted ear-splitting bleeps that might actually cause hearing damage. Then Ambrogio shifts positions again and turns to lemon-scented nihilism and dark minimalism in Young. Surrender To The Fantasy is a reminder that Magik Markers is sort of an absurdist band at heart, willing to moon their audience and then have an intellectual conversation about it.
These MM idiosyncrasies are what makes it easy to keep listening even after dozens of releases. Album closer WT hints back at the band’s muggy past. Not only does Ambrogio sound like she’s singing with her tongue outside her mouth, she’s letting her guitar plucks fall where they may, and the track itself sounds like it was recorded behind a concrete wall. At the album’s end, you’re left feeling like Magik Markers have taken you through a speed-review of their discography. They’ve gone from grimy basements to sunset rooftops and back again—and I’m guessing they’re not done yet.