Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Reviews: Papercuts / Magik Markers

You Can Have
What You Want

As far as "dreamy-sound" goes, Papercuts takes the blurry yowl vocals of shoegaze and makes it feel more like a lucid dream, more palpable. Your floating, but you have control, you feel grounded. True the swirling organs and shhh-ing fuzz of the flitting guitars can often feel like its rambling on (albeit pleasingly) until the edges of one song slowly disintegrate into ever thinning watercolors that spackle and spill off into the next. But, the coo of sole-papercutter Jason Quever is so soothing, like the pause you give yourself on daydreamy days staring up at the clouds, that certain errant drones are welcomed.

Beats start to step and Brit-pop hooks ameliorate into a steady pop song ("A Dictator’s Lament") and other times he tops supposed-infallible druggy-pop auteur Beck in terms of trippy-yearning-nocturnal balladry ("The Machine Will Tell Us So"). However he’s read, he fits nicely into the neo-psychedelia of the West Coast scene: the fuzzed psyche and traditional singer/songwriter style of The Skygreen Leopards, or he leans (slightly) into freak-folk territory, ala early Grizzly Bear or Vetiver. When you escape the cacophony of suburbia and head out to those idyllic beaches on the slopes of sleepy dunes – this will be your soundtrack as the sun sets and the stars awaken.

Magik Markers
Balf Quarry
Drag City

At its heart, Magik Markers are a guitar, drums, two human beings (Elisa Ambrogio, Peter Nolan) and their own minds. What they’re able to do with seemingly so little leads to some pretty haunting music; lurching, swooping, driving, coaxing, dancing, shouting. Their sound and style, particularly on Balf Quarry, lays transfixing elements like raw reverb swarms, military marches and sparse guitar scrapes and applies jazz improvisation (ominous drum spills, bowing guitar slides, roaring feedback spells), beat-inspired/art-punk-fricasseed poetry (the unapologetic, postulating swagger of a Patti Smith), and a reverent reach into the roots of no-wave (see: Sonic Youth) and hardcore (see: if nothing else, Black Flag). It’s something like a weird and lawless middle ground between serious fucking punk ("Jerk," "The Lighter Side of…Hippies") and smoky blues ("Don’t Talk In Your Sleep") while also having that alienating or intriguing ‘soundtrack of insanity’ vibe ("The Ricecar of Dr. Clara Haber") where it sounds like a gremlin clanking around in your head, yanking and biting your cerebral chords.

Most reviews never fail to mention (as I’m about to) Sonic Youth/noise-rock-aristocrat Thurston Moore as the band’s ticket to labels and major releases – which is a fine reference point, because you can find traces of SY’s Daydream Nation or the more spooked-out A Thousand Leaves soaked into much of MM’s work, which is true for Balf, but only to an extent. (Note: more psychedelic, more spook-jazz).

Balf Quarry (named for the quarry in the duo’s hometown, the rock pit that led to paving most of said-cities streets) features quiet, solemn reflections, sobering repudiations of past generations, exertive bottle smashing stage storming, and more blown-open strung out nocturnal jam-explorations. Quintessential track, "Psychosomatic" is tinged with bent and broken tones, slicing the gossamer layers of reality like a failing rubber band, percussion tapping along to imply a brief stability, then sliding off the edge to a fuzzy splurt. On "7/23" your ear drums stabbed by polite but acerbic woodblocks, your head swimming with this warbling feedback oscillating in some shattering nausea, with a guitar screeching and scorching like some hellcat’s death rattle, defiantly moaned out in the last minute before the witching hour down some rickety-fenced alley under a yellow possessing moonlight.

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