Marnie Stern the album mirrors Marnie Stern, the woman. Birthed during a challenging period in her life, the self-titled Marnie Stern is a compendium of life stories both bitter and sweet.
From ballads to her signature pop guitar-tapping style, Stern and long-time co-conspirator Zach Hill have churned out (for lack of a better word) an enormous album that will further cement Stern as a rising star in today s progressive music landscape. Stern also enlists the bass talents of psych-rock Canadian musician Matthew Flegel (of the band Women & boyfriend of Stern) and up-and-coming mixer Lars Stalfors (Mars Volta, Funeral Party) resulting in Stern stepping up her sonic game and revealing a mature and more focused side of herself. I wanted to pay more attention to the delicate and subtly layered spaces in between sound and just make things louder and fuller where I didn't on my last 2 records. When asked to sum her album up she maintains, It's direct and honest and real. I m no longer taking cover under guitar lines or yelping vocals.
Marnie's third and latest LP, while clearly containing her strongest songs ever, had its fumbles on the way to the finish line. She laughs when describing how the initial recording files were lost and ultimately retrieved through a series of trials-by-fire (upon which many a cigarette was lit) and in one complete statement, she quips: Holy Doodle! You will find both the artist and the album to be brighter, louder, and bustling with confidence as the end result.
Clearly, Marnie Stern's life and music are not easily separated; which is why Marnie Stern the record and Marnie Stern the person have REAL personality. Upon hearing her last two albums, In Advance of the Broken Arm (2007) and This Is It And I Am It And You Are It And So Is That And He Is It And She Is It And It Is It And That Is That (2008), it s quite evident that Stern lives in between the lines of chaos and harmony. While Stern s previous efforts garnered much critical acclaim, highlighting Stern s dexterity with both guitar playing and songwriting, she still remains the underdog of contemporary celebrated female musicians.
Three albums into her career, this certainly leaves her exposed. Yet, within that exposure, we find something more relatable and familiar to us all; vulnerability and resilience. And with this collection of songs, all you hear is... Marnie Stern ...which is destined for greatness.
Marnie Stern's hyperactive finger-tapping guitar technique is flashy and impressive when taken at face value, but her records are memorable because they're more about earnest expression than technical demonstration. Her complex arrangements evoke emotional turmoil as the songs ping-pong between excitement and panic, ecstasy and despair, extraordinary confidence and harrowing self-doubt. It's intense stuff, and given its jittery rhythms and extreme treble, it's not always easy on the ears. Still, Stern's songs invite a strong bond with the listener-- for all its charged-up rock power, this is intimate music. It's like jumping headfirst into someone's psyche.
Stern's last two albums were long on self-directed pep talks, and channeled the nervous energy of her guitar playing into optimistic anthems like Ruler and Transformer. Her latest isn't quite so positive. Though her words still show some faith in her ability to overcome adversity and change bad habits, the tone is far from triumphant-- in fact, some of these songs are outright defeatist. Stern's approach to songwriting and performing hasn't changed much, but the mood is darker, and the lyrics linger on loss, regret, doubt, and failed love. It's an album full of heavy, noisy catharsis, and the lines that stand out amidst the clatter are the ones most at odds with the can-do spirit of her last record. The fact that she spent so much time in self-help mode last time around makes the moments of crippling self-doubt all the more gutting-- it's hard to hear the woman who once declared, nothing can hold me down! and sold WIN 'MARNIE' WIN; t-shirts at her merch table insist that she is not enough on two consecutive tracks. You just want her to believe in herself all the time.
The bad vibes on Marnie Stern have a way of highlighting an expressive, emotionally resonant quality that's been in her work all along. For Ash, a song written in memory of a deceased ex-boyfriend, opens the album by cycling through stages of grief in waves of speedy riffs and harsh percussion before ending on a lovely, brittle melody-- I want to be in your imminent, elegant light. Transparency Is the New Mystery is the closest Stern has come to a power ballad, and its equal measure of longing and hopelessness is totally heartbreaking. Her Confidence gains its power from an atypically blunt riff that blurs the line between terror and empowerment. Many of these songs would be little more than pyrotechnics and flamboyant gestures in lesser hands, but Stern infuses every moment of her songs with odd humor and wounded, fragile humanity. It's impossible to miss the distinct person at the center of this noise.
Given that Stern is a genre of one-- art-metal math-rock bubblegum pop, basically-- there's always going to be some novelty factor to her music for certain listeners. But with this set of songs, she's proving that the bells and whistles of her style are less important than what she's trying to express. This isn't to say that her technical prowess isn't still dazzling, or that her chemistry with drummer Zach Hill has become anything less than a thrill. As usual, Hill is her secret weapon. His percussion consistently enhances and complements her parts, and rarely in obvious ways. In some songs, such as Gimme and Female Guitar Players Are the New Black, his fills seem to fight it out with Stern's notes, while in others, his accents fall on surprising beats. There's plenty here for musicians to analyze and dissect with envy, but first and foremost, this is an album for the body and the soul.
Matthew Perpetua, October 7, 2010 --Pitchfork
Marnie Stern, a virtuosic guitar
player who favors the finger-
tapping technique associated with male
players like Eddie Van Halen, was a late
bloomer. Her interest in the instrument
began in her teens, but music did not become a profession until well into her
twenties. Over three albums, her work
has passed through the indie and punk
canons, becoming marginally more re-
fined. It's still as chaotic and lumpy as it
is mathematical, but on "Marnie Stern,"
her new record, her ability to write songs matches her instrumental dexterity. The album feels like a single emotional eruption, even when melodic lines pile up in dizzying aggregate, like film spooling onto the floor.
- Excerpt from Sasha Frere-Jones profile 1/3/11 --The New Yorker