Just after the start of this century, Magik Markers felt like a spectacular explosion that would soon burn through all available fuel. A noise-rock trio that earned the back half of that hyphenate chiefly by virtue of playing drums, guitars, and bass, the Markers were famously belligerent, ripping into audiences that appeared apathetic while ripping riffs and rhythms into shards. It was exhilarating and exhausting, the kind of spectacle that never seemed to account for sustainability. But for the last dozen years, the Markersonce maniacally prolifichave slowed their schedule and softened their attack, seesawing between the pastoral wallop of Crazy Horse and the fragmented beauty of Kim Gordon. Though most people continue to associate Magik Markers with that early racket, theyve now been getting weird on the other side of the hyphenate for most of their career.
If the nine-song 2020, the Markers first album in seven years, doesnt finally recast their primordial reputation, its hard to imagine anything will. They mostly tuck the dissonance and bedlam beneath the surface of these tunes, like a weapon hidden between hem and skin. That restraint highlights the bands surprising breadth on their most diverse set of songs yet. That Dream (Shitty Beach) is the kind of blast from the garage Ty Segall might howl; its chaser, Born Dead, is a tender Mellotron-and-guitar waltz detailing cosmic loneliness and salvation. The opener is a guitar anti-hero epic, its elliptical solo gathering direction and distortion across the songs exhilarating second half. The finale, however, is a woozy pop lullaby for the dispossessed, like Julee Cruise coming back to earth.
None of this is to say that Magik Markers now sound normal. In July, they released a four-track preamble to 2020, stretching Elisa Ambrogios spectral voice across smeared guitars and refracted meters. Those pieces felt wonderfully surreal, like hymns spirited from a distant galaxy. The centerpiece of 2020 is Hymn for 2020, an eerie collage of long phosphorescent tones, sporadic drum thuds, and vocals that conjure ghouls and angels. Its like huddling inside a tornado shelter as a twister races by outsidea momentarily safe space, burdened by knowledge of whats on the other side of the door. Ambrogio intones the brittle CDROM, a seven-minute tone poem about astrology, psychedelics, and extreme existential angst, with a coolness that suggests shes succumbed to these worries. Her dazed voice and acidic guitar, along with Pete Nolans roiling drums, recall the dread that precedes a panic attack.