Too much goes into pointing out that Marnie Stern is a woman who plays guitar—as she told CMJ in 2010, “I don’t know what it’s like to be a male guitar player!” In fact, she was ranked No. 87 on Spin’s list of greatest guitarists of all time, putting her in the company of prolific men and women alike.
And following the departure of the prodigious Zach Hill, of Hella, Boredoms and currently Death Grips fame, The Chonicles Of Marnia features a new drummer: Kid Millions of Brooklyn noise outfit Oneida, who is well-versed in Stern’s heavy style. Yet, where Hill had always come on a bit strong, Kid Millions never overshadows Stern but rather provides a steadiness to her maniacally over-the-top fretwork with soft drum rolls.
Another immediate sea-change has taken place, too. The Chronicles Of Marnia veers from the path Stern took on her 2010 self-titled album: her signature guitars-blazing-to-the-front sound is still present, but there is a new focus on the off-kilter cadence in her voice. There’s a twee cuteness to her almost Satomi Matsuzaki-like vocals, most notably on the math-rock opener “Year Of The Glad,” but these chronicles rock too hard to be cute. Gleefully wielding her guitar, Stern zips through frantic intricacies on “Immortals,” harried but triumphant, beneath anthemic lyrics. Repeatedly calling out “Immortals don’t die!” like a battle cry while tapping her strings at a breakneck pace, Stern shows why she is the sovereign queen of indie-prog.
Because despite the clean production, there’s something that hasn’t changed—and please, Ms. Stern, don’t ever change this—Marnie Stern still shreds. “Too much incubation/Everyone is changing,” she muses on breakdown track “East Side Glory,” although in this case I’ll strongly disagree. The Chronicles Of Marnia was well worth the incubation.