Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Stern’s music is solid, but limited

So-called “progressive rock” is one of the most redundant genre titles in all of music, since no one else ever refers to “regressive rock,” or to what they view as music beholden of clichés, thus the music is progressing.

However, it is undeniable that the label is made to offset great pop songwriters from great technical musicians who operate on an unparalleled plane of speed and chord progressions.

Marnie Stern is on an even smaller plane of female technical progressive rock guitarists who hold soft singing voices. The long tag is ridiculously inclusive for a reason; Stern’s work stands out among the bearded efforts of bands like The Mars Volta, Mastodon and Hella, all efforts that, despite small differences, play to ridiculous technical prowess.

The blonde, wafer-thin Stern released her eponymous solo record – her third solo record overall – last Tuesday and the most unsurprising part about this particular release seems to be the emphasis on expanding the oddball hooks of her second album “This Is It and I Am It…” to great musical success.

In fact, anyone who heard that particular record might actually be almost bored by her style. The finger-picking, loud chaos that is every Marnie Stern song can get grating. Listen to “For Ash,” the opening track of this release, which is a pinpointed cacophony of drums and strums, and you’ll find out whether or not you want to press on.

Stern’s songwriting is shockingly traditional in a lyrical sense. On “Her Confidence,” she really goes into the mind of her protagonist. Stern sings, “She sees angels and diamonds and colors,” pointing out the insecurities of the woman and only the numerous noisy interludes even give the hint that this is classic Stern.

“Her Confidence” is the shining moment of the record for giving the normally ridiculous (in a good way) Stern a serious examination. She’s playing with herself as a subject and as a 34-year-old woman in New York City. The emphasis on her technical talent will always be there, so the approach of attaching herself to insecurity is more present and maybe alarming on this album.

On “Transparency is the New Mystery,” Stern writes in metaphor before saying, “I’m not enough.” She could mean anything in the world as the titular “I,” of course. But Stern’s music is preoccupied with the brilliant trick of covering its vulnerabilities with loud instrumentation everywhere it goes. And this is most definitely on purpose to make the few times we hear Stern’s voice above all else point at some mysterious meaning.

That said, this somehow feels like a lesser effort, although, not much less. Stern’s previous record was a great record that peaked at the right times and never felt like a boring listen, but somehow, this new self-titled record feels a little more tedious. It’s hard to always sound interesting to a listener, since most admirers are going to be those who appreciate technical virtuosity regardless. And if you are one of those types, Stern hits at the right nerves at the right times. Unfortunately, her consumption may just be limited to those people.

Bottom Line: Stern produces a tough release that will only work to a set crowd.

Rating: ***

Artist: Marnie Stern

Album: Marnie Stern

Release: October 5, 2010

Label: Kill Rock Stars

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