The Chronicles of Marnia
KILL ROCK STARS
Mar 19, 2013 Web Exclusive
Denizens of the Internet launched the word "epic" squarely into overuse territory, but with your permission, reader, I'd like to reclaim it to discuss The Chronicles of Marnia. No one embodies—or aspires to—"epic" quite like Marnie Stern. In interviews, she's claimed sweat-soaked Rocky Balboa as a hero, and her albums and song titles are rife with references to epic works (The Chronicles of Narnia, obviously, and Infinite Jest) and individuals who share her appreciation for the genre (Plato, Rimbaud). Few other genres give you the same sort of opportunity to be so detailed and nuanced while simultaneously making a grander point about the state of your world and what's to come. It's a balance Stern shoots for in all her albums, but it's especially pronounced on Marnia, which finds her broadening her sonic palette beyond the hyper-precise, finger-tapping riffs for which she's best known. Also, for the first time, Hella's Zach Hill isn't backing her on drums; that slot goes to Oneida's Kid Millions, whose touch is a little less aggressive. Marnia uses these shifts to Stern's advantage, though; album standouts "You Don't Turn Down" and "Nothing Is Easy" balance chunky riffs with plenty of open space that gives Stern's lyrics and voice more airtime than they usually get. "East Side Glory" gives her voice an especially nice chance to shine, layering syncopated phrases over a stop-start beat.
In the antsy album closer "Hell Yes," Stern reflects a little—and boasts a little: "I've got time in my hands/All I've got is time." And really, it's hard to think about Stern's music without considering time. Her body of work is characterized by abrupt time signature shifts; frenetic, needlepoint-precise guitar; and her ability to package an enormous amount of energy into a few short minutes. For any artist working to transform her work, time's both a demon on your shoulder and your greatest asset: it's easy to give yourself a false sense of urgency, to push your evolution before you're ready to grow into yourself. But when Stern yelps "Everything's starting now!" on "Year of the Glad," she sounds thrilled and unfazed, positively elated to embrace change and embark on a mission. I'm down to follow. (www.facebook.com/marniestern)
Author rating: 7/10
Average reader rating: 7/10
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