Marnie Stern Marnie SternMarnie Stern
Isolated within the current progressive scene, which is already isolated in and of itself, New Yorker Marnie Stern raises her voice from a corner, a corner with particularly sharp angles where she’s arrived, little by little, calmly, following biorhythms of a different sort to the norm. Knowing almost nothing about music, she started practicing with the guitar just messing around after high school, first an hour or two a day, and later up to five or six hours in a row. Marnie didn’t want to learn by imitating anybody, but by exploring for herself, without resting, as if she were braiding together those six devilish strings until they were as tangled as possible. As obstinate and “I’ll-show-them” as she is, she didn’t stop until she had defined her own sound and then right away, she started to send demos to Kill Rock Stars, year after year, until the indie cartel signed her. Right off the bat, one can already see something decisive in these beginnings: the Stern method isn’t that of the sophisticated white-gloved apprentice of Hitchcock’s “Marnie”, but rather a sort of “I Am Marnie” directed by Bigas Luna, dirty and unstoppable until she manages to laugh at the world and make it her oyster.
Such a crazy way of doing things, such spirit, could only lead to something that could be called indie-metal. In her thirties, like a welcome veteran, Marnie started to solidify this style in albums with an aggressive execution, like “In Advance of the Broken Arm” (2007) or her breakthrough, the torrential “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”, a flaming bomb that is fiercer than the other two big rock news items from 2008: “Nouns” by No Age and “Dear Science” from TV On The Radio. It took a few years to achieve all of that, but still today there is the feeling that Marnie hasn’t been talked about as much as she deserves, that her efforts still haven’t been entirely acknowledged. Unbearable for many, indispensable for others, she has been catalogued since then as a dying breed, the sharpest tip of the female spear that is raising its voice in progressive territory. Way better than examples like Screaming Females –who next to her look like some harmless students of The Strokes– or Andrea Zollo –at the head of the too-kitsch Pretty Girls Make Graves – Marnie’s personality is thundering, a woman tragically battling her guitar; this is a figure that has been scarce since Sleater-Kinney decided to retire with “The Woods” –by the way, sparks of theirs fly in “Building a Body”– and PJ Harvey decided to take the nap of maturity, look for the old Polly in “Transparency Is the New Mystery” and you’ll find her.
More proper names at her side. Matthew Flegel, also in Women, is her bassist and boyfriend. The tricky mixing of Lars Stalfors ( Mars Volta), and Zach Hill, from Hella, one of the most powerful drummers right now, back her up as squires. Along with them, our star would be the uncomfortable but necessary connection, the hinge, between groups like the aforementioned Hella or Lighting Bolt themselves, and examples of the more “pop” focus of Deerhoof or Ponytail. From there, and knowing that she’s the bad guy in the movie, this she-wolf can even afford to push the princess of the indie village, Bethany Cosentino, aside. Marnie fearlessly brings up all of her weapons, the most important of them being the guitar.
Impressionistic and impressive, “Marnie Stern” is the hottest thing that has happened in classic rock recently. It’s not only one of the best guitar albums that we’ll hear this year, along with “Expo 86” by Wolf Parade, but also her most balanced work, the one that most clearly favours her composing skills. Less Cubist and equally as psychotic as “This Is It...”, in this album they set off rock howitzers in the form of great balls of fire, on the back of total guitars and hot drums. Marnie already had the technique, and now she is also compensating by pouring out all she has inside, red hot. There are unexpected shortcuts, greater contrast in tone, and a more brilliant virtuosity, which is also more contained. In reality, one look at the album is enough to realise this. The fact that it is self-titled says it all, the opening with “For Ash” is majestically painful, the cover with her room done in wild brushstrokes: like Van Gogh, but with nicer ears, Marnie lives for her art and continues to try to understand it, practicing it and developing it right in front of us, always primitive. Now all she needs is for the indie crowd not to run off with their tails between their legs: faced with a temperament like this, the best thing is to run every risk.
Marnie Stern - For Ash