Magik Markers, Balf Quarry (Drag City )
Remember those large, brightly colored markers you had when you were a child, almost as much fun to smell as to draw with? Oh well, maybe your childhood was a little different from mine. The glue was kept locked up… Anyway! Magik Markers is a noisy, indie-psychedelic band from Hartford, Connecticut. Not inappropriately, they released several albums on Sonic Youth’s Ecstatic Peace label after opening for the group in 2004. This disc brings them to Drag City, one of the hallmark indie labels, known for Bonnie Prince Billy, Silver Jews and some of the most obscure as well as highly regarded groups today.
Balf Quarry starts out leisurely, references to clichéd cliques “here they come with their GTOs… and really cool clothes…” and reverbed guitar, as well as vocals evoking a real 60’s garage rock (not ‘Garage Band,’ computer nerds) ethos. “The Lighter Side of… Hippies” takes the 60’s act further, borrowing a trope & a joke from Mad Magazine for a little self-parody, which is always welcome. “You had a revolution in your head, too bad you couldn’t make it out of bed,” singer Elisa Ambroglio indicts, seemingly taking singing lessons from Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon without quite the shrillness of the latter. Rather than Sonic Youth’s shock therapy, Magik Markers lull you into security before they hold the distorted carnival mirror of reality up to your face, showing you the lack of safety in your tightly held delusions.
Cosmos, Jar of Jam Ton of Bricks (Happy Jack Rock Records )
This is a banner year for Robert Pollard (ex-Guided By Voices) side projects. Along with several releases under his own name, a Circus Devils release with Tim & Todd Tobias, and a third Boston Spaceships set. Cosmos is a one-off set of songs with actual Brit (as opposed to Pollard’s Anglo impersonation) Richard Davies of the Moles and Cardinal. Davies’ songlets remind us of Syd Barrett’s solo work or some of Robyn Hitchcock’s early pop masterpieces. Pollard is in full Britpop mode, which he and we are quite comfortable with by now.
You get the feeling by this time. Pollard strings together random phrases to emote reverb-drenched because he likes the sound of his own singing voice. But, his by-now weathered vocal instrument evokes such rock-star gesturing, even if, and especially when, clownish, stretching for a note just out of reach. The two singers split the vocal duties, and it’s a nice contrast between Davies’ whimsy and Pollard’s theatricality.