Release Date: Oct 05, 10
Marnie Stern is cooler than you. If you didn’t know that already, I’m sorry for having to break it to you, but it’s true. She’s also a better guitarist. You can tap too? No way! Well, if you have heard either of Marnie’s previous albums, you know she’s got a big ol’ soft spot for the overly caffeinated guitar tap, and seems to relish in being loud and screechy enough to make your ears bleed. Maybe in the past she felt she had something to prove, people to fight, with abrasion being her greatest weapon. But if now releasing her self-titled says anything, it is that Marnie is finally comfortable with the sound she has consistently been working towards.
Now I don’t personally know Miss Stern (please lucky stars, change this!), but while old Marnie was rather cryptic or even emotionally invisible in her lyrics, new Marnie does a fantastic job of putting herself into her music. This album does not just display a singular sound, but one with a strong personality to go along with it. This is fast made apparent with “For Ash”, a song written about an ex-boyfriend’s suicide. Marnie manages to take such depressing inspiration and turn it into a song with so much openness and so much ease, you can’t help but smile as you are carried away every chorus, not by impressive fretwork, but by Marnie’s soaring vocals. Of course, the highly technical guitar work is still very much present, as is the wonderfully chaotic Zack Hill (of Hella) attack drumming, yet when necessary Marnie restrains, allowing the complexity of the music to contrast very nicely with the new straightforwardness of her lyrics. The album’s second track “Nothing Left” comes back to the familiar mathy spazziness of past releases, with frenetic tapping, syncopated drumming, and now very strong vocal melodies. This new, more melodic friendly side of Marnie seems to suit her very well.
However, “Transparency is the New Mystery” has Marnie singing “I’m not enough”, as if her experiences and beliefs are not worthy of sharing with listeners. Is this why Marnie previously stood so strongly behind her axe? “Risky Biz” features Marnie making it clear that she has been holding back something not so pleasant, with the lyrics “I’ve got something in my soul, pushing me to hold on to the pain”. Marnie’s humor comes out on “Female Guitar Players are the New Black”, with a title that alone can stand as Marnie’s identifier. Her mad skills are really not so special, ya know? Marnie’s got a lot more goin’ on now.
“Gimme” features some of my favorite guitar riffs on the album, including an amazing hammer-on happy riff delivered at breakneck speeds near its conclusion. The incredibly inventive guitar licks and expressive drumming just keep comin, yet songs like “Building a Body” almost make me think this is, I dare say, a pop album, with a hint of perhaps Gwen Stefani in the vocals. There is a new boldness in her delivery. This is Marnie, with two feet firmly cemented, willing to face all that has bothered her, and able to conquer whatever this is. This comes across very clearly on the aptly titled “Her Confidence”. Following is the album’s most emotionally potent song, the stripped down, sweetly sung “The Things You Notice”, the only track on the album sans Zack Hill’s romping drums. Why, hello there Miss Stern!
With this album it is hard not to want to rock your head uncontrollably, your feet helplessly trying to keep the beat, yet even harder to ultimately not feel uplifted.