Marnie Stern - The Chronicles of Marnia (4 stars)

Inspirational album an exercise in restraint from maximalist guitarist

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Marnie Stern - The Chronicles of Marnia

(Kill Rock Stars)

Marnie Stern’s 2007 debut In Advance of the Broken Arm was the best thing to happen to indie rock in yonks. In a milieu that all too often venerated dour beardedness and/or half-arsed underachievement, here was someone well-versed in the righteous fretboard-fu of Van Halen, bringing unbridled positivity and wild energy to the table.

Her tunes were smart, super-catchy balls of multi-tracked guitar lightning, a blend of tech-metal without anger, bubblegum without dumbness and math-rock without ego. If anything, the follow-up (the ludicrously long title of which would shatter my word count) went one better, one brighter, one faster. The eponymous third collection, though strong, marked a shift in mood – darker, more contemplative, less self-assured.

Here, producer Nicolas Vernhes has stripped back Stern’s sound – her interlocking fractal guitar approach minimised, her voice foregrounded, exposed. By anyone else’s standards, Chronicles is pretty full-on, but for the maximalist Stern it’s an exercise in restraint. New drummer Kid Millions, is a more measured player than Stern’s previous foil Zach Hill, and thus perfect for this less scattershot approach.

Opener ‘Year of the Glad’ is a neat encapsulation – skeletal sound, lithe but pummelling riffs and sweet, painfully brittle vocal melodies. Though sometimes audibly uncertain, Stern’s vocals are playful throughout the album – monkey chatter, train-whistle whoop, a gorgeous multi-tracked chorus on ‘Still Moving’ and even, bizarrely, a Nottinghamshire accent during the intro to ‘Immortals’. But her guitar’s still the star, whether it’s bringing frenetic tapping, juddering riffs, spidery power pop, delicate introspection or big-rock breakdowns.

The Chronicles of Marnia has sombre moments, but with ten tracks in 30 minutes, there’s little time to wallow. Ultimately, it ends on a positive – or positively giddy – note or 16, in a flurry of incandescent guitars and inspirational exhortations. Still the best thing to happen to indie rock in yonks.

Marnie Stern - Year of the Glad

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