There's a lot of talk circulating right now about "For Ash," the opening track on Marnie Stern's new self-titled third record - it's about an ex-boyfriend who committed suicide. The song begins with crashing guitar riffs and drums (Zach Hill from Hella plays drums for Stern), then continues on at a galloping pace as Stern cries out like a tribal mourner, "I cannot bear/ No one compares." Stern's grief is all too palpable - it's a heavily poignant moment, and that's the key to her music. She undauntedly weaves her rampant guitar melodies with her real-life terrors, travails, and joys, touching her listeners in ways that trendy ironic indie-rockers never will.
Stern's guitar is electrifying, the perfect compliment for her wailing, Ono-esque vocals. And the minute the record settles down to a steady chug, it jolts back to life. "Nothing Left" is screeching and sassy; on "Transparency Is the New Mystery" she worries, "It's not enough, I'm not enough." She blasts her anthemic noise on the sly and spirited "Female Guitar Players Are the New Black," yelps along with the brutally demanding "Gimme," and then cuts to "Cinco De Mayo," another track about said deceased ex. "You will always be here/ And here/ And here," she sings. The song glows with fierce insistence.
Stern is renowned for her deft guitar chops - and her trademark fret-tapping and proggy guitar runs are all still here. Her previous two albums are masterpieces of modern, cutting-edge female rock, but this record is her most direct and open yet. Stern - refreshingly unafraid - possesses a full range of battling emotions, and her ability to so candidly weave them into her rock and roll makes her all the more brilliant.