Credit: Art-Utility
by Brendan Nagle Music Obscure Object

Magic Markers | 2020

January 20, 2021

2020 proves that Magik Markers are still able to excite nearly two decades into their career.

As young upstarts on the American noise scene of the early aughts, Magik Markers first made a name for themselves thanks to their raucous live shows and the dozens of self-released CD-R’s and cassettes they churned out each year. But as time went on, the trio’s output slowed, and their sound began to mellow as well. Abrasive free improvisation gradually gave way to more structure and more melody, following a general trajectory not unlike that of one of their obvious influences, Sonic Youth. (No surprise that the two bands went on tour together in 2004, nor that some of Magik Marker’s earlier records found a home on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label.) And much like SY, they managed to make that turn without sacrificing the spirit that made them special in the first place. 

“Surf’s Up,” the laidback jam that opens Magik Markers’ first full-length record in seven years, is a perfect example of their restraint; John Shaw’s languid bassline grooves against atonal piano improvisations, veering boldly into dissonance while never rising to the sort of cacophonous levels that typify their earlier work. Even “You Can Find Me,” the closest thing to a straightforward pop song the band has ever written, retains a sharp edge, the brittle production and Elisa Ambrogio’s imprecise guitar work augmenting an otherwise sweet melody. 2020 finds the Markers more stylistically varied than ever before, from the gorgeous balladry of “Born Dead,” to “That Dream (Shitty Beach),” a rollicking cut that sounds like a Black Sabbath outtake recorded on a 4-track, but they can’t seem to help but sound like themselves. Their most striking moment is the collage-like piece “Hymn For 2020,” which layers ghostly wails from Ambrogio over a deep drone that recalls some of the more eerie Twin Peaks cues — an ode, perhaps, to the enormity of loss that has defined the last year. Magik Markers were singular figures in the indie rock landscape of the early 2000s, and 2020 demonstrates that they’re still able to excite nearly two decades into their career.

Published as part of Album Roundup: Oct. – Dec. 2020 | Part 4.