Music

Marnie Stern: In Advance of the Broken Arm

A lot of crazy young people will blow out their eardrums to this in the next several months.


Marnie Stern

In Advance of the Broken Arm

Label: Kill Rock Stars
US Release Date: 2007-02-20
UK Release Date: 2007-02-26
Amazon
iTunes

At the very least, young indie-rocker Marnie Stern has an original approach; she accompanies her strange songs, full of chants and avant-ish poetry, with some seriously skronky electric guitar. Most of this is done using the hammer-on technique, making it all kind of sound like Steve Vai soloing constantly over OOIOO tracks. Except it's all in English, and Stern is probably more influenced by Sleater-Kinney than OOIOO, and her technique is more self-taught than Vai's hyper-arpeggiated muso bullshit/genius. So it all ends up sounding rather unique.

Take "Precious Metal". The song is built on two spiky-jangly guitar figures that repeat in various ways for the first minute and a half, over the crazed tribal drumming of Zach Hill (of the band Hella). These two riffs fall into each other and then fall apart separately to create a big fat rock anthem feel, which itself fades away. They then do the whole thing over again quicker, cede to ten seconds or so of speed metal, and then she starts to sing. (We are now only about 1:25 into the song). Or, rather, a whole bunch of Marnie Sterns start to sing something I can't make out, because one of these riffs continues underneath. There are several vocal sections, and they each have their own motif. The song finally crunches to a stop after three minutes and ten seconds, at which point the listener collapses into a quivering enervated heap.

And that's just one of 13 tracks. Some mess with the format by incorporating tropes from funk (remixed, "Logical Volume" could almost be a dance song, kinda), the blues ("This American Life", possessor of the nastiest guitar riff of the year), and industrial thrash ("The Weight of a Rock", with its stuttery-edited vocals and the oddest drum sounds you'll hear this year). Every time through the record reveals more relatives and "influences" -- Yoko Ono here, Sonic Youth there, Björk dancing to Motörhead, etc.

Most of the pieces have so many vocal layers and so many piled-up guitar and drum tracks that they end up seeming more like onslaughts than actual songs. But, y'know, onslaughts are cool too, rather bracing to just crank this up in the car and let all the heavy chunky fluttery sounds pound off your brain. But only for about two songs at a time, or the chaos will make you jump out of the car in a kind of noize rapture.

There is one basic problem here. Stern's voice and guitar hammers are both pretty much in the same register, so it seems like her two main assets are constantly fighting against each other. This is fine if she doesn't want her lyrics to be heard at all, but I'm not sure that that is true. In the Breeders-sounding "Grapefruit", she starts by turning herself into a cheerleader chorus repeating "Keep on! Keep at it!" -- and that's the last thing that can be understood. She may or not yell out "Suppertime!", there's something else about Christmas lights and a line that ends with "into the future", that much is clear. But the rest of it: lost to history. And the opening of "Absorb Those Numbers", where everything is clear, devolves into multi-track hell, sound, fury, nothing, etc.

She is a lot more effective on tracks like "Every Single Line Means Something", when she takes her guitar muscle down a few octaves so her killer opening couplet can shine forth: "And then it comes to me that every single line means something / You see it's up to me to drive myself into the ocean." (Although it might be "drag" or "try" instead of "drive". Not sure about that.) And the spoken-word narration of the closing track, "Patterns of a Diamond Ceiling", helps the song toddle down its freaky path. Here, she takes us through a surreal Cinderella story, announcing each new riff as the backing for a new leg of the journey, until about halfway through, when the song turns into a metallic beast. So satisfying.

But also exhausting. This is a pretty good start for Stern, and a lot of crazy young people will blow out their eardrums to this in the next several months. But her next record will be clearer -- and more interesting -- than this one is.

Listen to "Grapefruit"

7

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image