Marnie Stern
In Advance of the Broken Arm
2007
A-



one of the most prevalent aesthetics over the last few years is something that, for lack of a better term, I’ll call cartoon violence. It’s probably familiar to most: excessively bright colors, caps lock, surreal disconnect of grammar and iconography, 8-bit nostalgia, OCD technicality and complication without finesse, supersaturation for supersaturation’s sake; see it in art collectives like Paper Rad; hear it in indie/nü-prog virtuosi like Hella and Lightning Bolt. There are a couple problems with cartoon violence. The first is something I’ll call The Ramsey Scenario. Ramsey was a very smart guy I knew in college who apparently considered his life’s work to scream the word “AWESOME.” As a sonic shtick, a lot of these bands are finding that their endgame is exercise music for angry cats or soundtracks for people to pull their hair out to—Romans amped on mescaline and screaming about how ripped their gladiators are. It’s a route rife with possibilities but really easily mishandled. There are times that I’ve found myself practically in tears over “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” but I’m just as often shamed into measuring blissful overload with the same ruler I’ve had since I was eight. It gets old.

And Marnie Stern is a wank, a “shredder,” just as cock-measuring and Guitar Center-freaky as Hella, whose Zach Hill provides the percussive equivalent to her Van Halen finger-tapping. Her voice is shrill, her moves are sharp and chaotic; she makes excruciatingly high-energy rock music and wields it like a drunk with a laser. In Advance of the Broken Arm, though, has songs: dark, aggressive, romantic songs that retain our secret fetish for kiddie hysteria without making it a vapid pursuit. Part of what’s scary about this album, and probably what makes it feel like an album and not an instructional video, is that these songs were written in a bedroom. She lived with them, and lived with them alone, outside of the context of live-performance ecstasy. If I’m in awe of anything about Marnie Stern, it’s that these forty-four minutes took root in her head for two years before being shared. Invention is invention, but the pitch, the energy of In Advance of the Broken Arm seems like it would drive a body straight crackers. At the end of the album she confesses, “The picture in my head is my reward.”

Her songs are weird, sure, and there’s still some bad poetry and meaningless channel-changing that pollute stuff like “This American Life.” Most of it, though, feels as weighty and emotive as Sleater Kinney, or as seductive as Mary Timony in the mid-90s: fully-formed, feminine indie rock. Unlike bands she’ll undoubtedly have to weather comparisons to, she’s not a no-wave retread and her verses aren’t Trojan horses for frippery. Sleater Kinney had “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone”; at the height of In Advance of the Broken Arm, two minutes into “Logical Volume,” Marnie and Zach do a frayed impression of “Marquee Moon” by Television—a band that dealt and dwelt in the most un-AWESOME, leather-bound realms of the sublime—while she wails the most contextually bizarre lyric on the album, sentiments too naked for her showy counterparts to dabble in: “Thiiiiiissssssss izzzzzzz mahhhhhhhahhhh love for youuuuu.”

STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM RECOMMENDED ALBUM




Reviewed by: Mike Powell
Reviewed on: 2007-02-21
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