For those who enjoyed the noisy brilliance of iconoclastic guitarist/songwriter Marnie Stern's first two albums, you know that there will be intense, creative, nearly peerless guitar shredding that's accompanied by the hyperactive, equally technique-driven drumming of Zach Hill. These instrumental elements have found their way into her highly original song forms. That said, this self-titled recording is very different from its predecessors. Where her recordings have been emotionally abstract; Marnie Stern is direct. Her songs here have complex yet catchy, pronounced hooks and riffs, quirky but uplifting, even soaring melodies; the lyrics, however, are drenched in naked, dark-night-of-the-soul confessionalism and vulnerability. The focus on both harmonic construction and lyrical honesty never wavers or falters. These songs uplift the casual listener with their hard-driving patterns, careening double-handed, guitar-tapping solos, and frenetic, over-the-rim beats that are kept in check by Matt Flegel's more conventionally rhythmic basslines, which hold the energy steady. Stern and Hill gel here as never before, even in their most careening sprints. Deeper listening, however, reveals something else: a lyric from the head-charging "Risky Biz" which sums up what the album makes plain: "...I got something in my soul/pushing me to hold on to the pain...." The near-anthemic opener "For Ash" is musically euphoric. Its opening riff and architecture carry all the power and glory of the Who's "Overture from Tommy," but it's about an ex-boyfriend who committed suicide, as is the blasting, seemingly ecstatic power riffing in "Cinco de Mayo." The album's closer "The Things You Notice" is a more midtempo affair, but full of knotty yet lilting pop fire; it's summery, nearly shimmering. Nonetheless, its lyrics reveal the confusion and hurt of being dumped by a boyfriend. Each of the the album's ten tracks is naked, open, and bleeding, yet rousing at the same time. The lyrics don't hide behind Stern's infectious, blast-and-burn 21st century rock; they are buoyed by them. Since her debut, she's been portrayed as a guitarist of astonishing ability, but her earlier songs were harder to hang onto because of her musical intensity. This time, her songwriting is nearly hummable, with some choruses ready for fist-pumping -- like "Building a Body" -- and equally sophisticated. Marnie Stern's third album underscores the auspiciousness of her arrival, and the maturity of a musician who is ferociously changing, in her own small way, the way in which hear -- and perceive -- rock.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek