No Lions, Witches, or Wardrobes Here
An album title like The Chronicles of Marnia might lead one to expect some sort of overly indulgent, introspective, pseudo-witty navel-gazing, or some overly nerdy C.S. Lewis references at the very least. But when Marnie Stern gives such a moniker to her record, these sorts of expectations fall by the wayside.
Opener “Year of the Glad” bursts forth on the shoulders of buoyant, chugging guitars, frenetic pounding drums, and Stern’s high, childlike vocals. It’s a big, ambitious sound, combining the New York-based songstress’ proclivity for somewhat nerdy references (David Foster Wallace, this time) with an irrepressible optimism. “Everything’s starting now,” she croons, pulling you into the beginning of an appropriately epic journey.
While Stern became known for her signature tapping style of playing electric guitar (clearly audible in the intro to “You Don’t Turn Down”), which earned her accolades as one of the best female guitarists, The Chronicles of Marnia backs off somewhat from her technical virtuosity. The aforementioned “You Don’t Turn Down” also features Stern’s sweet, smooth voice accompanied by an eerie, wordless chorus, alternating between bursts of pure rock energy and dreamy interludes with hazy, surreal riffs. “Nothing is Easy,” similarly, starts out with this trebly tapped guitar and transitions into a staccato rumination on life, punctuated by vocals humming like kazoos and rolling percussion.
The album is also notable for its relentless energy, from the rapid soprano guitar trills warbling on “Immortals” to the manic, driving riffs and fevered vocals on the title track. But this vitality and exuberance comes, at times, at the cost of coherency—Stern’s style is still decidedly experimental, and on songs like “East Side Glory” and “Proof of Life,” the elements don’t always blend seamlessly together, caught between a flurry of tempo and rhythm changes.
The Chronicles of Marnia leaves you on a note of irresolution: after an intricate, masterful introduction of writhing guitar riffs, Stern sings “All I’ve got is time,” turning it into a mantra that lingers unfinished even as the pounding drums and guitars fade into silence. Like any producer of epics, Marnie Stern leaves plenty of room for a sequel.