“There’s a method to my madness.” This is a common response when something a person does is being brought into question. It’s comfortable to question anything unfamiliar to you, but sometimes it’s also premature; as you know, first impressions are not always accurate. At first glance, Marnie Stern’s In Advance of the Broken Arm
appears as a jumbled mess of technical instrumentation and complex songwriting, all with a lingering indie flair. Think Regina Spektor fronting a band whose musicianship specializes in the bizarre and off-beat like Dillinger Escape Plan. Formulas like this can be disastrous, or if they’re done right, spectacular. I really wanted this record to end up being the latter, but the first impressions ended up having the last laugh this time around.
Immediately noticeable is the talent seeping from every member in the band. Many of the songs come out firing on all cylinders, every musician showing off their stamina for insanely paced tempos and all over the place structures. Stern herself is a very eccentric vocalist, and this adds personality to an already unique sound to say the least. There are usually so many things going on at once that you’d have to listen to any given song here several times, singling out one part of it each time if you really want to know what it’s doing. This in itself is not a bad thing because rediscovery is one of the joys of listening to music; however, chances are you won’t want
to go back for a second round because the songs are awful. The energy being exuded is powerful no doubt, but it never once goes anywhere. Things that sound like everyone in the band just doing their own thing at the same time really do end up being just that; there’s no apparent agenda of disguising something great underneath the whirlwind raging on top. It’s like a mighty army preparing to invade another weaker country, but destroying itself before it ever sets out because the soldiers can’t control their powerful lust for blood so they slay each other. When I think about how this record sounds, I can only hear one thing, and it’s the same for every song: a conglomerate mess of too many good things making it a bad thing.
Maybe Marnie Stern is on to something. I could be missing the point of Broken Arm
completely. What if the agenda is to exude emotion and energy through playing at maximum volume at all times? If so, said agenda was achieved, but that’s besides the problem I have with it; there are records that do this and succeed because they make the experience memorable. I can’t say that about Broken Arm
; there’s simply too much stuff and not enough substance. I can’t discredit the talent and potential here as it’s pretty obvious there’s brilliance present somewhere in the mix. They say you can’t have too many geniuses in one room though, and this record has made me a supporter of that notion.