Marnie Stern: Marnie Stern

B+

Marnie Stern

Album: Marnie Stern
Label: Kill Rock Stars
B+

Marnie Stern

Album: Marnie Stern
Label: Kill Rock Stars

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Two years after delivering a 31-word album title, Marnie Stern has gone the more traditional route of a self-titled record. It’s fitting, since Marnie Stern features her most traditional songwriting yet, cramming her mind-exploding guitar work into more accessible structures. Weaving in the best elements of her previous albums—fretboard-tapping flair, frenetic prog-rock drumming from Zach Hill, sneaky time-signature twists—Stern finally sees the forest for the trees: Soaring hooks wax and wane in an intentional emotional flow, and even at her most energetic, she remains poignant and personal. She still occasionally shows off, and there’s plenty of epic bombast, but a cleaner production showcases the music’s most interesting complexities without letting them get swallowed in the chaos. (Stern’s vocals, on the other hand, are blurred into choral fuzz, with moments of screeching shrillness that rake the nerves.) “For Ash,” a song about an ex-boyfriend’s suicide, is strangely alive, whirling and tumbling like a gusty mountaintop; “Female Guitar Players Are The New Black” electrifies by layering a taunting chant into a thrashing guitar riff. The record closes to the hollow rush of “The Things You Notice,” which softly thumps to the pulse of a coolly thrilling night in the big city. By the end, Marnie Stern proves that no matter how she packages her talents, Stern sounds only like herself.

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