I showed much love to Marnie Stern when she exploded on the scene in 2007, picking “In Advance of the Broken Arm” as the Best Debut of 2007. It was alternately dissonant and shredding, muscular and intricate, and like nothing else I’d ever heard. With a sound as distinct as hers—it’s kind of like a nine-year-old choir boy at a metal nightclub, shouting in your ear that he wants a Shirley Temple with a rum chaser—it was hard for me to imagine how a sophomore release could be anything but disappointing. But it isn’t.
Like most artists, Marnie Stern's follow-up is less wild and more melodious—but not much more. It starts with “Prime,” a car-alarm of sonic urgency that blasts and blasts until, in track 2, Marnie offers the first single: “Transformer.” Here, she raps. Yes, raps. But not in a stupid, white girl way. This is the most accessible Stern song I’ve ever heard, but it’s still so off-the-wall that it leaves me out-of-breath, looking for a toehold. And while I’m dangling, she rips right into “Shea Stadium,” which begins with rolling, careening drums that bash and batter. And so it continues.
The album is much like the horrendously difficult title: “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.” Every song is a series of quick bursts, start-stops, nothing with more than one syllable. Sounds don’t continue for very long, notes don’t sustain, and the guitars cut out rather than fade. In some ways, it’s psychotic. In other ways, it reflects our current instant, mash-up, disposable, short-term culture.
Most rock grrls try to sound sexy. But Marnie never does. Instead, every song shouts of a body on fire and a running brain back-to-back windsprints. And that’s sexy, without even trying.
Absorb the Lipgloss
BONUS COVER that is about as opposite of Marnie as humanly possible:
You Will (Bright eyes cover)-Snow Patrol (live, acoustic)