There's an idea in art that if you start producing work that you feel is first-rate dreck that you should be ashamed to put your name on, then you're on the right track to getting past the internal editor artists have that guards their impulses and can keep them from creating, honest, genuine work that connects with audiences. Marnie Stern has said she doesn't feel like she's written a good song yet and that she's dissatisfied with her songwriting. If the songs on this album are just process work until she breaks through to her creative bedrock, then we're in for some earthquake.
Though Stern's fret-slapping technique is what won her such attention in the first place, the standout element of this record has got to be the naked, life-affirming effusion with which she attacks every track. You only need to look at the 31-word title to realize that Stern is nothing if not gushing over with ideas and feeling.
Opener "Prime" starts off with a stream of consciousness that seems to illustrate the ethos of the entire album. No one could pretend to know the meaning of the seemingly random string of words that Stern assembles in the first 30 seconds of that track, but the end, when she repeats the phrase "Defenders get onto your knees," has a resonance that continues through the album. It seems Stern is fending off attackers and naysayers of which only she is aware.
In fact, a lot of the album feels like it wasn't even intended for other people to hear, as if Stern decided to record things she whispered into her bed pillows. Repetitions like "Holding back will be forgotten" and "You could go higher" sound like Stern talking herself up for some big move, and that sincerity is what draws the listener into the work. The conviction in Stern's direct, bare voice is what turns the album into the kicking, clawing, emotional frenzy that we get.
Though Stern's lauded eardrum-pushing guitar work drives her music, it forces her to be a very different artist than a lot of other rock acts. Traditional rock acts indulge in solos and complicated techniques to show off their chops, but the opposite is true for Stern: The moments in her music where she lets her spare voice dominate a song or she succumbs to some basic, slow chord progression are her indulgences. Everywhere else on record her virtuosic guitar playing takes the spotlight.
What's on display here is Stern's freakish combination of musical and verbal bravery, from a woman who picked up the guitar at age 21. Her impulses could've easily left her getting nowhere now, in her early 30s. But there's another idea about art that's paid off for Stern: If you truly give people a piece of yourself, they have to give something back.
To call Marnie Stern's second full-length album a pop album might cause much disagreement and spit balls amongst the true rock historian. The truth is that Marnie Stern's latest fixture, " This Is It & I Am It & You Are It & So Is That & He Is It & She Is It & It Is It & That Is That" is a pop album- it just happens to be wrapped in barbed wire and sugar kisses. The album has catchy hooks and choruses that are sent through shattered windows and a collage of vibrant colors. Marnie's previous work has been jittery and all over the place. With this album, Marnie's harnessed that nervous energy into structured guitar virtuoso excellence. Her girl like vocals are much confident as she has honed her songwriting talent. This album and any of Marnie's previous work may not be for you and that's understandable. The fact of the matter is, Marnie Stern can shred on the guitar which should make any rock 'n roll enthusiast tickled with joy. When you can't even say this album title five times fast, Marnie slaps it across your face with each riff, knocking you into a concussion of bliss.
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