On the surface, drawing comparisons between the Motor City Five and Magik Markers seems absurd: The former are proto-punk icons from the Vietnam era; the latter are modern indie upstarts. On the other hand, the two share key strengths and weaknesses. Along with their Detroit idols, the Markers are renowned for cathartic live shows — orgiastic collisions of rock, free jazz, feedback, and sweat. Unfortunately, the duo can't produce a great rock album, much like their heroes.
After their sloppy live debut, the MC5 retreated to the studio, where they fashioned Back in the USA, a tight, if at times sterile, collection of '50s-inspired retro-rock. The meticulously crafted BOSS is a nearly identical departure from the Markers' previous LPs (which were basically anemic documents of noise-rock jam sessions). But instead of Eisenhower, the Markers turn back the clock to George H. W. Bush. Produced by Sonic Youth's Lee Renaldo, BOSS revives the "alternative nation" SY helped spawn in the late '80s.
Singer-guitarist Elisa Ambrogio and drummer-pianist Pete Nolan have never sounded so groomed. They're like a totally different band. The duo even wrote several dark ballads, including the atmospheric "Bad Dream/Hartford's Beat Suite," which blends goth, vintage dream pop, and Hole. The same goes for the grunge-inspired "Circle," wherein Ambrogio transforms herself into the sinister goddess Kim Gordon always wanted to be.
BOSS won't go down as the Markers' definitive album; it's too anachronistic. But it's one gutsy-ass departure.