CD Review of 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 by Marnie Stern
Recommended if you like
Sleater-Kinney, Van Halen, Lush
Kill Rock Stars
Marnie Stern:
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

Reviewed by James B. Eldred


arnie Stern is a hard artist to describe. She's “indie,” but only because her label (Kill Rock Stars) isn’t a major. She's a guitar virtuoso, a technical wizard whose shredding is on level with Eddie Van Halen and Buckethead, but nothing about her is metal in the least. Some could call her a singer/songwriter, but once you slap that label on a woman, people think of Tori Amos or Regina Spektor, and Stern isn't one to craft a slow, introspective ballad (in fact, she does just the opposite).

Defining Marnie Stern is impossible, so let's just call her genre of music “awesome” and leave it at that.

This is really something special, and it's evident from the second the album starts. On the opening track, “Prime,” Stern grabs your attention with nothing more than a hand clap and bizarre stream-of-consciousness of lyrics (“All I can see are dolphins / I feel close to them and no one else / Road to nowhere / Point of no return”) before pausing briefly and repeating the same dreamlike rant, this time with her guitar plugged in and drummer Zach Hill (of Hella) pounding away behind her. The sudden burst of energy is shocking, made even more impressive by the fact that it never stops. This Is It... is 41 minutes of brain-bashing rock, with the volume set to 11 and the speed cranked to 5,000 RPM.

Nothing here is subtle. After the shock of “Prime” wears off, the shock of “Transformer,” and Stern's brain-shattering fingertapping skills, kicks in. Her hands flying back and forth across her fretboard, she asks, “Are you read to feel alive?” If you aren't feeling alive by this point, check your pulse. She also seems to be playing down her own importance, reminding her audience that she “Cannot be all / All these things to you.” Yes, Marnie, you can.

From that point on, it's one blistering four-minute epic after another. The slightly psychedelic “Shea Stadium” and “Ruler” show that Marnie can do more than just play her guitar as fast as possible, while “The Package Is Wrapped” combines a stellar opening riff with an undeniable vocal hook (“You re-arrange your mind / You re-ah re-ah re-ah arrange you mind”) that would fit in a Top 40 pop song. Marnie flirts with the mainstream again on “Vault,” which is probably Stern's best chance at coming close to scoring a “hit.” It's the only time that Stern slows down enough to allow attentive audiences a chance to sing a long for the simplistic and powerful chorus (“Come with me! / Will this lonely life get better? / At least this song will last forever!”) all while tapping her guitar at a frantic pace that would make Eddie Van Halen's drunken head explode. If you manage to keep your head in one piece, you still have four more excellent tracks to look forward to, including the tempo-shifting, “Back to the Future”-inspired “Roads? Where We're Going We Don't Need Roads” and the closing “The Devil Is in the Details,” where drummer Zach Hill takes his already inconceivable tempo to unheard-of levels. The whole thing is so intense that by the time it's over you might feel physically exhausted -- but not exhausted enough to stop you from playing it again...and again...

This Is It... is it. It's the kind of thing jaded rock fans dream of, something that can prove there are still fresh, original ideas out there. It's the kind of album that will inspire musicians to rethink how they play and try something new. It's the kind of album that gives angry prick critics absolutely nothing to complain about. It's one of the best albums of the year.

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