Music Reviews
In Advance of the Broken Arm

Marnie Stern In Advance of the Broken Arm

(Kill Rock Stars) Rating - 8/10

Ok, what are we to make of this? Whenever you are struck with something entirely new and unique, the natural reaction is to recoil. It's like those kids watching the Beatles' video for Strawberry Fields Forever on American Bandstand in 1967 ("I think the Monkees are better"). The job of the disciplined listener is to work past the instinctive revulsion and determine whether the thing sucks or not. So, does Marnie Stern suck?

Easy answer? No. But it is different. If you haven't heard anything by her, imagine Pere Ubu, with Eddie Van Halen sitting in, and turned up to 11 (If you haven't heard Pere Ubu, proceed immediately to The Modern Dance). Oh, and it's a chick singing instead of a dude. And man, does this chick make a lot of noise. It sounds like she's playing inside of a 30x30 metal box, such is the intensity of the reverberation. Apparently Sleater Kinney was a big influence on Ms. Stern, which is not surprising given the strength of conviction heard throughout this album, but she has taken that influence as a starting point and gone off somewhere else entirely. Her guitar playing is what really drives her music, gives it its structure and propulsion, and hence makes her one of a kind.

Did I mention that Marnie Stern is a f**king excellent guitarist? Her technique sounds like a cross between the aforementioned Eddie and Robert Fripp, with his atonal layers of "Frippertronics". It really is something to behold, and I love the fact that she has taken this talent into the little-mined territory of punk avant-garde. The first seconds of the first track, Vibrational Match, give you an idea what you are dealing with, as the frenetic guitar work underlies a vocal line that borders on sprechstimme. Elsewhere, she rocks out in guitar hero fashion on Precious Metal, which should leave many teenage boys with their mouths agape. These songs give you a template for the whole affair, which is loud, dissonant, masterfully played, and let's face it, difficult.

The closest Stern gets to convention is the baroque descending bass line that underpins Put All Your Eggs in One Basket and Then Watch That Basket!, but don't worry, she quickly follows that up with Logical Volume, which is so dissonant it may actually be harmful to your health. These songs don't usually have chord changes and I can't detect any bass guitar (more S-K?), so it's hard to find your bearings. For that matter, the rapid fire arpeggios don't give you much to go on either, since they are highly chromatic and don't seem to find root in any standard pentatonic or diatonic structures.

In other words, this music is intensely free, ecstatic and original. But make no mistake - it's very, very hard to listen to. Maybe it's better taken in doses. I don't know, but there is some kind of genius at work here and I have to give it props, even if I don't always feel up to the task of listening to it.