Review Summary: "In order to see it, you've got to believe it. I do."
Marnie Stern is sick of your shit.
Marnie Stern is going to go out and have a great time shredding with her buddies while you’re stuck at home listening to records in that old Metallica t-shirt you bought at the thrift store and are now wearing ironically (‘cause, you know, Metallica suck). “Hopefully this record reaches more people than the avant circles the last one seemed to reach,” says Marnie about the follow-up to 2008’s excellent (only typing this once) 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
, the (thankfully) eponymous Marnie Stern
. In other words, a barely concealed “fuck you” to the hipsters. And as a KO bonus, she hates Best Coast! (Damn, Marnie, way to kick’em while they’re already down.) At least she had the good sense to acknowledge the Pitchfork effect and how it has benefited her career. Or did she? Maybe them P4K goons banished her to the artsy corner of the classroom, leaving her to toil in relative obscurity. But honestly? None of this really matters. No matter how many people end up hearing Marnie Stern
, ten or ten thousand, it’s a terrific record, filled with some of Stern’s best work.
What has always set Stern apart from her math-rock colleagues is her reluctance to allow virtuosity to overwhelm her songs. So while opener “For Ash” is sufficiently complex, what with its rapidly changing time signatures and elaborate guitar figures, it’s also decidedly fun
. When the drums take a breather and a chorus erupts in an irresistible chant, it’s impossible to not break into a huge shit-eating grin. Stern’s chirpy voice may have grated on previous albums, where it often functioned as yet another instrument in the mix, but here it is a key element in keeping the more cerebral tracks like “Female Guitar Players Are The New Black” (oh, Marnie, you so subtle) and “Her Confidence” deliriously enjoyable. Of course, the superb drumming and characteristically mind-boggling guitar work don’t hurt, nor does the solid production. With this album, Stern has left behind the sparse textures of This Is It
, opting for an appealingly full-bodied sound. The results are galvanizing; closer “The Things You Notice” is positively gorgeous, benefiting from a warm coat of reverb. It’s the gentlest track on the album, yet it makes perhaps the strongest impact. Stern is utterly naked here, stripped of the abrasiveness that has characterized so much of her work; she seems to be singing half to herself, repeating phrases over and over again with quiet urgency. It’s a poignant denouement, a rare glimpse of vulnerability.
So go ahead, Marnie, try to break free from the indie shackles that you’ve been bound in. I’ll be here, listening to this album over and over, wondering what exactly makes it so special. But maybe trying to pinpoint exactly why Marnie Stern
is such a success is grabbing at straws. As Stern says herself: “In order to see it/you’ve got to believe it.”
All together now: “I do.”