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Magik Markers
Surrender To The Fantasy Jerry Dannemiller , December 22nd, 2013 08:52

After four years away from action (save for Pete Nolan's fabulously underrated Spectre Folk side project), Magik Markers return with Surrender To The Fantasy, a sprawling distillation of folk noise and unhinged verse over the course of nine disparate songs. Neu! fuzz-groove? Sunkissed anti-folk? Truxian curled lip, bummer vibes? Settle in, fellow traveller.

The first blush of many past encounters (over the course of 40-some singles, cassettes, and burns) with Magik Markers has been one of sheer onslaught, a cathartic dive into the depths of Elisa Ambrogio's quest towards the real — which always seemed to aim for confrontation vs. establishing any sort of connection. At worst, their basement rumblings seemed unfocused, or worse, uncaring, a hastily assembled, end-of-semester MFA project. With Surrender, the obfuscation and intimidation gives way to beauty, and confrontation transforms into liberation, bringing forth the most focused, coherent work of their existence.

Look no further than 'Screams of Birds and Girls' for the declarative statement of Surrender. Over a creepy, fuzzy trudge, Elisa Ambrogio effortlessly drifts between a drone-harmony and sign-speak that sits in timeless space that could be San Francisco ’66 (The Great Society) or London ’81 (This Heat). Parsed out, the majestic trio of 'Mirrorless,' 'Crebs,' and 'Acts of Desperation' highlight the development of Ambrogio's writing, something that earlier versions of Magik Markers never dared bother with. While 'maturity' may be code for 'increasingly lame' to some, Ambrogio, Nolan, and new third member John Shaw do not go gentle into middle age and responsibility, and in truth have created their most engaging work to date.

It's glaringly evident that portions of Surrender's nine songs were recorded across environments (J Mascis' Amherst attic, various Brooklyn practice spaces) with wildly different gear inventories and acoustic DNA—no doubt because of the fact that Ambrogio and Nolan now find themselves living in different cities. The variance over nine songs is really a non-issue, but if a certain consistency of tone across the span of an album is something you highly value, you may want to steer clear. 'American Sphinx Face' is a two-chord drone that sets the table for six minutes of free verse ("history judges what it sees") and berserk guitar exorcisms. It's a choice display of the conundrum in effect here: one persons heady, tone-righteous improv is another's bullshit, can't-really-play fucking around, and at times it's hard to know which side of the argument Magik Markers fall upon when the extempore vibe takes over.

'Bonfire' is the type of no-fi dance party sprint that buttresses perfectly against the more demure moments across Surrender; garbage can drums and a distinct 'Oh Bondage! Up Yours!' work ethic re-imagined for an entire generation down the line. Not all moments throughout are as thrilling as that, and in truth, half-hearted moments like 'WT' and 'Empire Building' are almost enough to pollute the previous high points. Luckily, the balance of ideas and effort that run throughout Surrender show a band back in top form after long spell off, perhaps the best of their decade plus existence.