Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Marnie Stern—This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That (Kill Rock Stars)

Dabs of paint, like cells vibrating into place, coalesce into a portrait of the artist. The cover painting captures a lot of what Marnie Stern is about. Sometimes the brushstrokes overlap, and the paint runs together. Stern doesn’t like to colour between the lines with her music either, rendering it in frantic note bursts—tapping, slashing, rapid fire picking—avoiding any large fields of colour or convenient rest stops. Everything works to convey her music’s restless, relentless energy. These are pop songs blown apart, the glimmering, half-melted shards reassembled in an unexpected yet equally sturdy new three-and-a -half minute forms. The material comes out in a mad rush, with Stern’s keening voice commandeering the melee. When she asks “Is there no way out of my mind?” in “The Package is Wrapped,” you’d be forgiven for thinking she’s found a way out of it already. If, as she implies, she’s trapped in there, it’s nice that she’s letting us in for a visit; her mind is a fascinating place in which to spend 40 minutes. Sometimes she gives us glimpses of the conventional, where it sounds like she's about to embark on an indie-rock hit (as on “Vault” or “Roads? Where We’re Going We Don’t Need Roads!”), but then it all goes thrillingly haywire. Stern and producer/drummer Zach Hill (Hella) make a fearsome team. Hill’s roiling fills and devious rhythms are a good match for Stern’s own playing. This album sounds like freedom, imagination, colour, fun, and the mysterious unmappable impulses that make us who we are.

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