Somewhere at the end of the rainbow, there is a world filled with musicians like Marnie Stern. Musicians to whom average is a concept that they haven’t even considered. Before you surmise that an onslaught of superlatives in about to follow, I shall warn you instead that Ms Stern's self-titled album is hard work.
There is nothing immediate about the appeal of the songs on this album but I suppose that is the almost inevitable result of such originality. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that Ms Stern takes art rock so far into the abyss that it comes out sounding like a Devil powered cross between a secular mantra and avant-garde deconstruction. Her angry girl voice, and indeed her words too, parallel the rapidly evolving percussive rhythms and sliced up death metal guitar riffs twisting her music into a genuine case for treatment. “Nothing Left”, for example, spits flames like our own dear Lonelady would if she were to covet the use of carpet bombing as a means of artistic expression.
One of the joys of reviewing an album like this is the opportunity to join all sorts of things together to form meaningful comparisons. “For Ash” as Bjork meets Michael Nyman at a Muse concert, perhaps? Or “Transparency Is The New Mystery” as Siouxsie meets Girls At Dawn? You can see the fun a tired reviewer’s ears can have with this selection box of sonic conundrums. A special award must however go to “Building A Body” for being both the most commercial song here and simultaneously the most confusing. Likewise, Zach Hill (on drums) and Matthew Flegel (on bass) deserve a medal for being able to follow the convoluted plot.
There comes a time in every reviewer’s miserable life when he wonders if he has in fact heard it all before. So many bands these days dare to be average that Marnie Stern’s album stands out by its simple virtue of being different. Is it immediately accessible (apparently the average attention of a teenager is less than a minute now)? I doubt it. Is it worth persevering with? Undoubtedly as this album will get to you.
Reviewed on vinyl. The pressing was good but the sound quality rather less so.