Virtuoso guitarist Marnie Stern‘s newest album is self-titled, and there’s determination in that simplicity. Her last release, 2008’s “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,” didn’t exactly roll off the tongue. This time around, Stern has laid her name on the line.
“Marnie Stern” presents what Stern does best: bombastic riffs, howling vocals and tempos so fast they feel like a race. Stern blazes through 10 songs in just under 34 minutes, giving them grandiose, magazine-spread titles: “Female Guitar Players Are the New Black,” “Transparency is the New Mystery.”
But these are all things she’s done before, which ultimately makes “Marnie Stern” a bit of a letdown. Her guitar prowess is certainly evident, but even that has lost a bit of its sheen: As impressive as her skill is, noodling alone does not an intriguing album make.
That said, Stern does pull out some interesting tricks here: She dramatically plays with the spaces between notes on “For Ash,” slowing her searing pace to that of a mortal. Her vocal register drops on the robotically-sung “Building a Body,” giving the song a creepy, haunted vibe. “Nothing Left” kicks off with some delightfully creaky and randomized guitar tones.
The real trouble with “Marnie Stern” is that she doesn’t take these new ideas far enough: Those bizarre tones on “Nothing Left” would make a compelling song all on their own, especially when coupled with the chords that come crashing down around them; instead, it’s a disappointment when her vocals kick in and the song returns to her well-trodden howling rock territory. Stern’s fiery vocals and lightning-fast riffs are impressive, but she’s already proven that on her previous two releases. Now, she needs to move forward to hold our attention.
» The Red Palace, 1212 H St NE; Tue. Oct. 26, 8:30 p.m., $12.
Written by Express contributor Catherine Lewis
Photo by David Torche