"Transformer" by Marnie Stern
Talk of Marnie Stern tends to gravitate toward the way she shreds on guitar, but her style is too abstract to measure by mere musical chops. She plays fast and tight for sure, but she just as often zooms in on simple figures and reiterates them until strange colors start to spin out of cycle. It's a neat art-rock trick that plays out all over Stern's second album, which borrows its long title from Zen philosopher Alan Watts. The album-opening "Prime" starts off with Stern stringing words together ("frontier sense defenders dolphins") over naked handclaps that morph into hectic, jerky riffs meted out with Tourette's-esque intensity. Much the same transpires elsewhere, but part of Stern's appeal is the way she spits hooks and melodies from the center of a swirling din. Her songs always at least suggest pop, and the sense of tune at their core adds an inviting thrill to Stern's fitful guitar and Zach Hill's ridiculously, miraculously agitated drums.