Prog Metal Meets Women Who Rock and We Rejoice
It’s hard to believe that Marnie Stern’s first record was released on her heroes’ Kill Rock Stars after she sent them some demos of some songs from her Upper East Side apartment. It must be a testament to the potential she had; her virtuoso guitar playing, her punk rock yelping and the sheer energy behind her musical efforts must’ve been palpable on that tape. After emulating Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and Don Caballero, turns out she’s become emulation-worthy herself by now.
Her self-titled third album is a fuller, louder, and yet somehow poppier album than her previous two. She admits to it, too. She isn’t content to hide behind her mind-blowing metal guitar fingering and banshee screams. This one’s a bit more controlled and meticulous in its chaos. And as always, supporting her in the studio is the madman on drums, Zach Hill. These records would not be so successful if it weren’t for his maniacal percussive force. Sometimes she plays live all by herself, with little more than an iPod or a computer, but on record, she’s got her boyfriend Matthew Flegel playing bass with her and Hill rounding out the fully fleshed-out recording.
The album opener and single “For Ash” is a brilliant standout track, characterized by tempo changes, choral chanting and herky-jerky rhythms. This song is a study in kinetic punk energy. The solid second single is “Transparency Is The New Mystery,” where Stern’s voice starts to beguile and challenge you to think about her alongside some of indie rock’s leading ladies: Karen O, Tegan and Sara, Scout Niblett and Cat Power. “In order to see it, you’ve got to believe it,” she sings, a line from a long list of lyrics that emerge as haunting, striking turns of phrase. In the same way that her lyrics can sometimes smack of originality, the same can be said for her whole sound. The way she combines prog rock, metal, folk and angry woman rock is remarkable if only because no one else really does what she does. She can credit PJ Harvey and Liz Phair for doing it first, but she’s the one putting in the hours these days.
There’s no question that the legacy Sleater-Kinney has created in terms of feminism and women in rock is something that Marnie Stern seeks to channel and uphold herself. With songs like “Female Guitar Players Are The New Black” and the phenomenal “Build Her Confidence,” she’s making sure we realize that she’s no Katy Perry or Taylor Swift – this is a woman who you don’t want to mess with. She’s strong, she’s talented and has lots of ideas. And with this album, she’s proven just that.