Fear and Melody


“I cannot take your want and make it a need,” drawls “Taste,” the queasy keystone that divides one side of the Magik Markers’ Boss from the other. Nothing new there—they’ve always made their bones thwarting satisfaction, pushing against perfection (and even definition) since their 2001 genesis. The band’s 2005 full-length debut, I Trust My Guitar, Etc., hinted at four years of sprawling, difficult shows and sounded as though it had been recorded just down the block from one of ’em. Vocals were miles away from any microphone, feedback tumbled out of the speakers, and the structural improv stuck and slid like it wasn’t quite finished, because it wasn’t. “There was always something disgusting and too personal about melody before,” says singer-guitarist Elisa Ambrogio now. “Something creepy about it.” With the Lee Ranaldo–produced Boss, their third full-length (give or take a score of scattered LPs, CD-Rs, and tapes), they went ahead and tried it—melody— anyway. The result: songs. It’s a choice anyone who ever saw Ambrogio in performance, crumpled on the floor and screaming, never thought they’d make.

“There was a while a few years back when Elisa would go on live about finding your ‘locomo,’ ” says her drummer, Pete Nolan (honorary third-member-for-life Leah Quimby left the band last year). “Fear—fear was our locomo.” Droning Boss paranoia like “Last of the Lemach Line” churns with it, spinning out incantations, threats, shrieks, leaden drumming. “I’m gonna eat them up before they eat me,” Ambrogio mutters. So there’s still fear, yeah, but on Boss the Magik Markers are driving it.

“I mean, it was basically, with the Markers writing songs, ‘Let’s let a couple of defectives reinvent the wheel and see if we can make the car go on four squares,'” Ambrogio explains. “It can go, but it takes a lot more power and destroys more.” Plus, she adds, “It was also written out of straight frustration. When you look at most of the vapid, soulless douches currently writing songs and making records, do you not think with even the slightest effort you could do better?”

That these two would write actual songs—as opposed to, say, just “working it out,” as Nolan puts it—merely because soulless guys exist in this world doing the same says a lot about the way the Magik Markers deal with other people in this world. Or about their version of justice, anyway. Which isn’t to say Boss is confident, or even outward at all. “Axis Mundi” and “Circle” hang heavy like interior monologues, with claustrophobic bits of self-recrimination and discomfort. “Body Rot” vibes Sonic Youth, tour mates (and now more, with Ranaldo behind the boards and Boss out on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label) who beat them to the howling-chaos-to-tightly-wound punch, and who, like the Markers, have probably drawn as much inspiration from art made outside their medium as from other musicians: writers, painters, stand-up comedians, and anybody else in this world doing things the same hard way they are.

“Taste,” that creeping mission statement, is the band’s attempt to give back to those who gave to them. “It is meant to be a song for the bush-league batters, the song about the people too good or too weak for their own good, who didn’t or don’t watch out for themselves in the world,” says Ambrogio. “The survivors are not wasted by this world. People like Bob Dylan or Keith Richards or Leni Riefenstahl or Norman Mailer, they don’t do a lot of apologizing or pussy-footing or saying ‘thank you.’ The world does not lay waste to them—they built bulletproof skins, or they were born with them. Ted Hughes as well. These are not the people ‘Taste’ is about. It is about the ones who shoot and miss, the ones who never even had it in them to shoot. The people too good or too weak for this world. I am neither.”

The Magik Markers play Death by Audio October 1,