As you’re listening to the fiery storm of “Cinco de Mayo,” one of the tremendous songs off Marnie Stern’s third album, Marnie Stern, you can sense both her passions and desires on the album’s roaring chorus: “You will always be here…” It’s the repetitive line that can be sung throughout; all the time Stern is conducting the drums to engorging levels, while her guitar caterwauls her way around the entire chromatic scale. Although it’s obvious that with a self-titled album personal reflection might comes in bunches, Stern does a fantastic job of pairing her life’s travels through her lifting music.
Though her last two albums were a singular look into a creative force that is both gifted and determined, Stern’s self-titled album places the focus on a difficult time during her life and in turn, the music is powdered with personal lyrics that highlight different themes and motifs. The stomping pulse of “For Ash” opens the door into something frenetically diverge and thus, it’s a towering way to open Marnie Stern. By the time the dust settles, Stern releases a wide array of guitar prowess, stylistically unique songwriting and a knack for inviting new ideas. There’s often a multitude of shifts in the songs themselves – the aforementioned song’s different settings make for a thrilling ride – and Stern never feels entirely at home on any song but is entirely dominant throughout. It makes for an album that both impresses and entices – and Stern sounds better than ever.
She even makes time for drowning fuzz like on the grungy style of “Build Her Confidence.” If ever there was a moment where anyone doubted Stern’s diversity, it can be comfortably laid to rest here. The guitar’s imposing presence is always at the core of everything and likewise, on the Deerhoof-inspired “Gimme,” the guitar is the star of the show: supporting the melody, counter melody and some of the harmonies. There’s not much stopping the music from flowering into massive gorges; Stern commands a wealthy atonement to both the scope of song structure and the notion of being able to deliver tangible results.
The back-and-forth drum pant of “Risky Biz” is the song’s driving force as Stern weaves her guitar in and around variously different octaves. The background vocals are a sweet touch in filling the void with a catchy chorus but like everything else, Stern’s vigorous voice is the perfect pairing to her intensified guitar shredding. Suddenly, after it all ends, “Female Guitar Players are the New Black” is a furious display of noisy chaos and fittingly, an homage to her own impeccable musicianship. But while the song displays distortion, it’s still adorned with a synth-heavy melody and sure, plenty of guitar noise. The album’s tension and release is a direct result of its vivid creator: a potentially raucous amount of music that is always fortified with riffs and licks but never, overpowered.
The understated confidence is the most inviting aspect of Stern’s music, simply because it’s refreshing to have such a terrific guitar player be so unabashedly honest. She’s advanced from before and turned in a mirror translation of music from her personal life. The swagger comes in the form of knowing your strengths and for Stern, she’s put all of them on display with Marnie Stern.
“For Ash” by Marnie Stern