Release Date: Oct 7, 2008
Record label: Kill Rock Stars
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Pop
Transformer, the first single from Marnie Stern’s latest album, graced my ears maybe a month or so ago. It rang with the familiar air of Stern’s first album, In Advance Of The Broken Arm, her manically quick fingers running up and down those bruised frets with inexhaustible speed and precision. Zach Hill, sitting behind his abused drum kit, rolls, flips and barrels through…whatever.
Marnie Stern's sophomore album on Kill Rock Stars is cursed with a 30-word title that begins This Is It.... She blames an Alan Watts essay but punters can blame her -- until they hear it, that is. While her debut, In Advance of the Broken Arm, was filled with her now wildly celebrated guitar pyrotechnics inside a sprawling yet inarguably hooky pop song setting, this set goes off in a different direction entirely.
Marnie Stern may have taken the title for her second album from Alan Watts’ presciently weird proto-psychedelic LP from 1962, but thankfully she’s still too abrasive to annoy those of us whose teeth are set on edge by hippies. I suppose Stern’s oddly potent blend of feel-good, almost twee sentiment and accomplished noise rock can qualify as psychedelic in its own right, but as with her very few contemporaries in terms of bending this level of sonic aggression into surprisingly poppy forms (say, Parts & Labor), she never settles back into the “guys, isn’t this cool?” kind of fug that tends to afflict those more explicitly chasing that ‘60s sound. Even a song like “Ruler”, which spends much of its time worrying a fragmentary chorus until it wears grooves in the track, is still spiced by Stern’s continually impressive and satisfying guitar work and Zach Hill’s impressively fluid and brutal drumming (not to mention the tight, seemingly unthinking interplay between the two).
Marnie Stern can be located, along with a number of other current artists, on a border between two rough assemblages of strategies for making music. The former tends to be rather provincial in its methodology, sticking to somewhat more plain, more straightforward concepts, while the latter favors strategies that dialectically engage the avant-garde as well as melodic pop, dynamically shunting back and forth between the two broad approaches. Whether this is a possible new status quo or just a strategy that will pop up from time to time depends on a number of factors.