In case anyone thought that Magik Markers’ relatively focused (and excellent) album Boss meant they had sacrificed their more freewheeling tendencies for cohesion’s sake, Balf Quarry proves that the band can still deliver an artfully messy tangle of sounds. Even though the Markers’ Drag City debut doesn’t stray too far from Boss’ mix of tantrums, free-form jams, and occasional vulnerable moments, the difference in the albums’ sound and attitude is notable. Boss’ clean production gave the feeling that Magik Markers were putting their best foot forward in order to better kick listeners’ ears, but Balf Quarry’s surly murk doesn’t make any such concessions. “Risperdial”’s slow-motion garage rock opens the album with suffocatingly skuzzy riffs and lanky drums, and this push-pull between intensity and indifference sets the tone for the rest of Balf Quarry. The band juxtaposes the vengeful blues of “Don’t Talk in Your Sleep” -- which sounds a little like early PJ Harvey fused with Royal Trux -- with “Psychosomatic”’s laid-back mischief. One of the band's poppiest songs, the strangely tropical-sounding “7-23,” appears along with two of the Markers' noisiest numbers (“Jerks” and “The Lighter Side of...Hippies,” a snarky takedown of baby boomer musical clichés) since they started releasing CDs instead of CD-Rs. However, Balf Quarry’s heart lies in its stranger, slower songs, like “State Numbers,” a surreal ballad about the lottery that turns the slogan “You can’t win if you don’t play” into an epitaph, and the album’s closing track, “Shells,” which is half baleful violin drones and half sweetly hymnal vocals. These bruised moments show Magik Markers can still surprise after years of making unpredictable music, and the fact that Balf Quarry’s best songs sound like they’re from completely different bands only offers further proof.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares