Some very satisfying words in album titles this week, if you’ll forgive the fairly tangential way of starting a blog: “Veckatimest”, “Bitte Orca”, and today, “Balf”. “Balf Quarry” is the new album from the Magik Markers – according to the sleevenotes, “A stone quarry in Hartford, CT which has mined traprock since the earliest days of the city.”

Some very satisfying words in album titles this week, if you’ll forgive the fairly tangential way of starting a blog: “Veckatimest”, “Bitte Orca”, and today, “Balf”. “Balf Quarry” is the new album from the Magik Markers – according to the sleevenotes, “A stone quarry in Hartford, CT which has mined traprock since the earliest days of the city.”

Anyway, I was just reading the stuff I wrote about Magik Markers’ “Boss” a couple of years ago (I’d call it their last album, but I suspect there may have been a few releases below my radar in the interim). “Boss” was part of a run of great stuff on Ecstatic Peace round that time, and “Balf Quarry” appears on Drag City as part of that label’s hot streak, alongside Alasdair Roberts, Bill Callahan, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (In the US, anyway), Six Organs Of Admittance, Death, Sir Richard Bishop and so on. Last time, I invoked Royal Trux, Sonic Youth and Patti Smith, and I’m afraid I’m going to have to resort to those fairly kneejerk reference points again for this excellent record.

But “Balf Quarry” finds Magik Markers stretching out and finding new dynamic ways to express themselves, in some cases an unimaginably long distance away from their skronky origins. The range here is striking – from desolate piano ballads to fervid hardcore and many points in between – but all the disparate elements fit together with uncanny harmony, thanks in no small part to Elisa Ambrogio’s compelling vocals and her endlessly interesting guitar playing.

“Balf Quarry” begins with two menacing, low-end fuzz blues, “Risperdal” and the outstanding “Don’t Talk In Your Sleep”, that suggest a dirgey, logical expansion of the ideas formulated on “Boss”, with the Trux influence in the ascendant. Soon enough, though, they’re essaying tearaway ‘80s hardcore (“Jerks”) or stealthy, strung-out sing-songs like “Psychosomatic”, where the Sonic Youth allusions switch from, say, “EVOL” to something like “Bull In The Heather”.

Ambrosio’s partner Ben Chasny turns up on “7/23” for textural “nylon and solo”, and her bandmate Pete Nolan doubles up on drums and piano for the blustery and affecting “State Numbers”.

But it’s the final run that best exemplifies the mood-swinging excellence of the duo. “The Ricercar Of Dr Clara Haber” is a slurred instrumental in the band’s old style, with Ambrosio carving out capricious, spluttery firestorms while Nolan goes wild and free in the avant-improv style on his kit. That tumbles straight into a fantastic hardcore track, “The Lighter Side Of. . . Hippies”, that acts as a kind of incantatory indictment of a generation. “You had a revolution in your head/Too bad you couldn’t make it out of bed,” she chants, between shreds. “Cokeheads sang ‘Teach your children well’/ And wonder now how it all went to hell.”

Next up is a beautifully constructed, artfully deconstructed jangle-rock song called “Ohio R/Live/Hoosier”, a super-loose evocation/desecration of the Stones tradition, and perhaps the sort of thing that Royal Trux often threatened to pull off, but never quite managed. Finally, there’s “Shells”, which begins with about four minutes of Nico’s harmonium, flickers of violin and guitar clank before Ambrosio enters, by candlelight.

At the ten-minute song’s heart, there’s a piano ballad that seems like a ghostly folk song ripped from the Great American Songbook, with Ambrosio at her most tender. But then the harmonium descends again, and the fiddler appears to be playing 19th Century jigs amidst the ruins. Amazing stuff.