DiS spoke to guitar virtuoso Marnie Stern a week after the release of her second album, 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 (out now on Kill Rock Stars).
If the Beckett/Laing/Zen mash-up of that title hasn't scared you, and the idea of a female shred-guitarist doesn't cause brain-mangling cognitive dissonance, then (as a Hare Krishna once said to me, because I didn't avoid eye-contact, and hurry past) "You're already on the path to enlightenment."
Except, you really are, with Marnie Stern, because this is the most mind-expanding music being made right now, bringing the same energy to philosophy that Sleater-Kinney brought to politics on One Beat, and living up to Marnie's own comparison on 'Logical Volume' (from her last record), "This is my 'Thunder Road' / This is my Marquee Moon / This my Orthrelm." Since I'm not actually a member of Wyld Stallyns, I can't comment on the comparisons of Marnie's lead guitar playing to Van Halen or AC/DC but the new record has been compared elsewhere to Ys by Joanna Newsom… to which we need only add: if all of Van Dyke Parks' orchestral arrangements were played by one person.
Although not a huge departure from the synaesthetic overload of its predecessor, Marnie's "pop album" certainly has more anthemic moments, and 'The Crippled Jazzer' could be the best song Sleater-Kinney never recorded. Lyrically & vocally, Marnie's often clearer throughout, and the album's all the more affecting for framing it's self-interrogation in psychoanalytic, and existential terms, which only an emotional retard would term "psychobabble" – the language is technical, but this is a smart person trying to reach out, same as the rest of us. The humour's still there, of course: like Richard Kelly in Donnie Darko & Southland Tales, Marnie drops repeated references to time, time-travel, and the need to escape the constraints of time (she even titles a song 'Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads...'. In other words, she ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime, from teenage escapism to Zen, while alluding to the hypnotic, time-banishing effects of her own playing, and the sci-fi romance trope that the right person may be so hard to find, they'll have to come from the future.
If Marnie's to make a more widely recognized "timeless masterpiece" it's probably going to take a little more trust in her own abilities and the patience of her audience - not necessarily slowing down for the sake of compromise, but for the sake of more contrast, and letting some of the songs build - then again, she's already made one of the most remarkable debuts, and "sophomore" albums of the decade, so maybe we should all speed up, and recognize those masterpieces for what they are.
Check back early next week for our interview with Ms. Stern.