If you recognize the name Elisa Ambrogio from her persevering role in noise-rock guerillas Magik Markers, you’ll likely find the suggestion that the first song from The Immoralist, her debut solo album, be re-recorded by a major pop star in an expensive studio to be a ridiculous one. Sure, as Magik Markers surpassed the half-decade barrier, some of their songs pulled back on the earlier feedback and distortion, the ruptured rhythms and full-band hysterics. BOSS, for instance, featured tunes that might have been college-rock singles for the right DJ, like the slinking “Taste” or the build-to-burn piano tune, “Four/The Ballad of Harry Angstrom”. But as late as last year’s Surrender to the Fantasy, Magik Markers had hardly normalized. That album opened with “Crebs”, a steady snarl that slowly interred itself in scorched-amp hiss and fuzz. Magik Markers are less active and aggressive than they once were, but they’re still not exactly the kind of band you’d leave alone in a room with a potential pop hit and a mixing board. It might get messy.
But “Superstitious”, which cracks open with quickened-pulse drums and radiant piano chords, feels like the first draft of a song and structure suited for popular consumption—not blogs, but the top of Billboard. For all of Magik Markers’ ripostes and pugnacity, this is a disarming love song about falling for someone so deeply that you give up your lack of belief in the supernatural, for fear of ruining what you’ve found. “I cross my fingers, baby/ I touch every tree,” Ambrogio sings, multi-tracked but humble harmonies crisscrossing behind her. “I block the paths of black cats/ To keep you loving me.” During the song’s four minutes, Jason Quever’s marching-band drums push ahead of the piano, and the background vocals grow bigger and bolder. But the tune barely changes, treating the sweetly declarative refrain just like the illustrative verses. It feels like a full-band version of a tune begging to become electronic pop, to explode into one final, overloaded chorus. You can imagine Sylvan Esso or Phantogram pushing it to new heights, or even Katy Perry during her days of Teenage Dream. Magik Markers never had a chance with this one.
That introduction isn’t an outlier, either: About half of The Immoralist suggests low-budget renditions of tracks meant for bigger spaces and studios. “Stopped Clocks” is an anxious, agitated pop-punk romp, where Ambrogio turns the jargon of paranoia into an irresistible hook over an irrepressible beat. And “Reservoir” drifts through aestival reverie, steady piano chords, and circling guitar riffs guiding her soft approach into romantic escapism. “Taking hands, making fools of ourselves,” she offers with alluring calm. “I don’t want this no one else.” And with its aphorisms about death, details about life and generally flawless hook, you can imagine the haze and drone lifting from behind piano-and-cello closer “Arkansas” like morning dew, moving the tune from the domain of Grouper to Sam Smith.
But those budget hits and the appearance of Waka Flocka on the album’s cover as a stand-in for Ambrogio shouldn’t trick you into thinking she’s given up on her more plangent past. Even the most radio-ready songs warp in some way, whether it’s the tidal harmonium drone that introduces that sweeping finale or the hard-angled, distortion-pocked counter-riffs of “Stopped Clocks”. Ambrogio slinks into the fragmented poetry of Body/Head for “Kylie”, a discursive and forlorn look at a former friend, maybe a pretty party girl, whose life has slipped into depressive solitude. During “Clarinet Queen”, Ambrogio alludes to her noise associations with a particularly brittle guitar solo, here a crooked exclamation mark cut into the middle of an otherwise downcast number. By the time “Far From Home” ends, it’s stumbled into drifting sections of gentle coos and cymbal crashes. But it builds in a fit of static and squall until, by the end, the song breaks into a rhythm-less shriek of guitar. Where Magik Markers might’ve once caught that jagged thread and ziplined toward a fisticuffs, though, Ambrogio simply moves along to “Stopped Clocks”.
If it sounds like Ambrogio is sitting on a fence during The Immoralist, she is. She’s an exceptional songwriter, with a touch for hooks that withstand production choices or context. This has been apparent in Magik Markers for at least half of that band’s life. But she also comes from a lineage of punk pranksters and art-rock iconoclasts, musicians who’d rather destroy a song altogether than see it played too straight. Ambrogio, at this point, seems undecided, and that’s for better and worse. That indecision turns The Immoralist into an intriguing listen, a sort of garden of forking paths. Could she make a pop record in earnest, or would she even want to? Or will her work always entail a measure of transgression, no matter the triumph of the material?
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/142VVBv