If Hartford, Connecticut’s Magik Markers has built its reputation as a feverish live act, Boss wrangles all that frantic upheaval into a surprisingly tuneful and, yes, utterly ragged set of songs. It’s hardly shocking that the duo of Elisa Ambrogio and Peter Nolan found a home on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label or a producer in Lee Ranaldo.
On Boss, the band’s mix of feedback-soaked guitar squalls and visionary role-playing pulls from the same playbook as vintage Sonic Youth. Out-of-tune guitars breed mutant harmonies. Opener "Axis Mundi" disappears into a ravine of Ambrogio’s screeching, dissonant guitar until Nolan rescues it from catastrophe with his excitingly precise drumming. And throughout the album, Ambrogio plays Patti Smith priestess, speak-singing facile, apocalyptic poetry in an icy drawl that alternately conjures Hope Sandoval and Karen O (particularly on the knockout track "Taste").
Where the band really sets itself apart, though, are on its forays into restrained and delicate balladry. "Empty Bottles" is a piano dirge that calls to mind Moon Pix-era Cat Power. "Bad Dream/Hartford’s Beat Suite" is even better. Over a bed of plaintive acoustic picking and a molasses-slow tapestry of reverb-drenched guitar, Ambrogio delivers her most heartfelt vocal performance. Pitted against the insistent pummeling of "Body Rot" or the aimless noise-rock of "Last of the Lemach Line," these tracks reveal a gentler side to such a punishing rock outfit.