Man, this is a great year for Lee Ranaldo to take other bands to Sonic Youth Fantasy Camp, isn't it? First, he gave the starstruck Cribs a taste of how real indie cred feels, beknighting their crossover breakthrough with his disjunct beat poetry on the avant-anchor "Be Safe." Now he's helping noisy protΘgΘs Magik Markers live the opposite fantasy, an album of songs and melodies, the forbidden dream of the noise-rock scene, I always suspected. Heed, theologians of Merzbow: accessibility warning. Even with a nine-minute spoken dirge, the duo's first official album, BOSS
, won't be hard to take for anyone who's been softened up by PJ Harvey's Rid of Me
or Ranaldo's own band's A Thousand Leaves
, the two landmarks BOSS
recalls instantaneously. A nice little pipebomb to indie's current obsession with billowing lanes of sugar and safe orchestral watercolors.
Not that BOSS
rocks or anything. It creeps along like one long feedback-swollen hymn, always noising up denser and denser but rarely exploding into punk or anything you could describe as a wall of something. It rather gorgeously hums low and disturbing, hiding in the grass like some kind of jungle cat. You know its there, you see the yellow glow of its eyes, but the entirety of the beast is camouflaged in shrouds of thickery.
Itchy drummer Pete Nolan tries his damnedest to go against everything I just said. He doesn't peel off petals, he tears the flower's whole damn head off. Guided missile "Body Rot" isn't totally unlike the work of spastic labelmates Be Your Own Pet, and you can tell it was just what Nolan needed after picking at the scabs of "Axis Mundi" for six minutes. His contributions (and lack of contributions: piano ballad "Empty Bottles" is just the perfect relief between the tough stuff) craft the perfect negative space throughout a thrash-and-release album to make the noise beat harder and the quiet ring all the more shakily.
Frontwomen don't come more arresting than Elisa Ambrogio, either, who wraps dark abstractions like "My wet youth just made me queasy" around electrical malfunctions in "Circle," with birdlike effects a la "Tomorrow Never Knows," and weary pleas like "I gotta decay" in "Body Rot." Her voice is captivating and full of theater, brimming with icy, sexy evil in the bluesy "Taste." The ballads are especially surprising, with not just "Empty Bottles," but "Bad Dream/Hartford's Beat Suite," all chiming acoustics and beating Chan Marshall at her own game. And if Cat Power ever came in contact with the John Updike character Harry Angstrom, as Ambroglio does, it was probably just to snort a line off a jaundiced copy of Rabbit At Rest
. Nice to have a noise band that lets a little light into their cave now and then. You know, literary references, proof of some relation to melody, linear song structures. It's just more human.
Reviewed by Dan Weiss
A former editor of the William Paterson literary magazine, Zeitgeist
, Dan Weiss is a contributing writer for LAS.