Review Summary: Stern's latest proves to be a superb effort from an artist who's finally realized, and lived up to, her potential.
A band's debut can take a variety of forms, and as a result, it can also have a variety of effects on the band's future. As their opening gambit, a band can easily put out some sort of introductory piece which the band can, if they so choose, atomize in later works. Or, they can take the route of releasing something noteworthy, if pretentious, and build off from their epic beginnings. But what is an artist to do when their first album is universally despised? Well, they can do anything, really, considering that for many people, they can't truly regress. So: Marnie Stern's second full-length exploration appeared with Stern being able to please most of her (few) fans, and reel in detractors as well.
It's almost shocking how Stern achieves this position of redemption as well; she didn't completely change her technical prowess, nor did she abandon the torch she carried for experimental pop music. What she did do, however, was make everything that made Marnie Stern Marnie Stern and polished it up beyond recognition of her past, immature flamboyancy. Gone are the bombastic drums, the overly eccentric production styles, and Stern's abuse of her obvious virtuosity. Instead, she's simply refined what she knows she can do, and made actual songs out of her strong points, deserting her less fortunate experiments in the process. (Eight-note guitar figures which cycle 32 times in half a minute no longer make the cut.) In short, Stern learned that her math-rock sound was meandrous and alienating beyond all belief, and she did something about it. She had an epiphany, and discovered that her frenetic style showed immense premise, yes, but her puerility towards songwriting allowed it to become another grating element of her sound. Now, Stern has realized ways to accent her increasingly spastic score with her talents, rather than shroud positive factors with her ignorance.
Still, her music has not been compromised at it's core. It's gleeful, choppy, and ambitious math-rock, which may stay a little too boisterous for a little too long, but Stern's dazzling charm makes it an acceptable component, if not a desired one. Her sound is still undeniably technical, but it's not suffering from Mickie Barr syndrome whatsoever; she's mastered restraint, and honed it as her most enchanting quality since her ability to balance the sugary with the sharp and experimental (a quality which she refines on this release).
Stern's still keeping tricks up her sleeve, simply refining what once was into a near-perfect record. Her voice remains distorted in a way which is simultaneously choppy and resplendent: sugary enough to draw you in, but sharp enough to keep you genuinely interested. "Prime" shows her voice in staccato form, as well as one her most memorable vocal performances. Although her high-pitched vocalizations are wonderful, it is Stern's expansion which allows her to rise above math-rock clichés and break the boundaries of the genres which she used to be confined to. "The Crippled Jazzer" shows this at its best: Stern's restraint is evidenced by this track's groove-oriented feel. "Roads? Where We're Going, We Don't Need Roads" is also another highlight, which shows how irresistible her quirky style can be with her newly found songwriting abilities. And when placed besides so many equally consistent tracks, Stern's latest proves to be a superb effort from an artist who's finally realized, and lived up to, her potential.