ARTIST: Marnie Stern
TITLE: 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
WEB DEBUT: Sept. 16, 2008
RELEASE DATE: Oct. 7, 2008
ONE-LISTEN VERDICT: Guitar pyrotechnician Marnie Stern has apparently found a greater balance between flexing her fingers and writing stick-in-your-head melodies, and the result is an album’s worth of firework-filled songs that are propelled as much by her finger-picking as they are by some seriously developed songwriting chops. On her first album In Advance Of The Broken Arm, her melodies were sometimes in danger of being buried by her frenetic guitar playing, but here, the songs shine through much more. This is not to say that This Is It is as neutered as your run-of-the-mill Avril Lavigne album; Stern’s pop sensilbilities, while more present here, are couched in syncopation and fuzzed-out falsettos. Even a track like the glorious “Roads? Where We’re Going We Don’t Need Roads,” which in a perfect world would be a joyous accompaniment to the “we’ve escaped” scene of a dreary-to-that-point movie, is filled with herky-jerky syncopation–not to mention that it uses a Chris Russo “haaaaaa!”* to drag itself from its verse to its chorus. And then there’s “Vault,” which at first sounds like it could be a menacing, muscular track from the third hour of a 1990 Headbanger’s Ball episode, then opens up into a glorious arpeggio-fest. Stern’s penchant for smooshing together messy pop hooks and mathematically precise instrumentation results in songs that bend and twist out of speakers, much like ambient music one would hear while taking a stroll around a big, unfamiliar city; this is the music of someone who lives in her head and really likes it there, and listening to This Is It makes me feel lucky that she’s let us in, if only for 40-ish minutes.
* Given that Stern is a known Mets fan, I have to wonder if her homage to Russo was intentional. Also, I feel obligated to note that Stern’s vocals on “Shea Stadium” sound like they’ve been amplified through the speakers of the Mets’ crumbling home; thanks to that distortion, it sounds like to me like the lyrics employ the word “cry.” That could be the result of me projecting a bit, though.