Marnie Stern - The Chronicles Of Marnia

Her recklessness momentum is forever tinged with a hint of shyness.

Label: Kill Rock Stars

Rating: 8

Marnie Stern can shred. Which is important. If you’re someone who spends their evenings walking out to tables alongside a plate of Peking duck. Or if you can say things like ‘Wow. A fretless guitar. How cool is that’ without a trace of irony in your voice.

For everyone else, it’s a point of note, but nothing more. Virtuoso displays of musical ability are usually accompanied by two opposing feelings arriving, bus-like, in quick succession: ‘Oh. That’s impressive.’ ‘Oh. Now it’s dull.’ Yes, through the hugely complex and barely conceivable practice of circular breathing you can hold a note on a wind instrument for fifteen minutes without interruption. So long as no one asks the question why you’d want to.

But Stern’s ability to wrestle noises that sound like they could make Eddie Van Halen’s mind fold in on itself in the hair metal equivalent of the Big Crunch, has never ever got in the way of her actual songs. It’s never come at the expense of tunes and melody and huge great quivering slabs of personality. Something that has never been more true than here on her fourth album.

In a way, it does tilt the balance towards her and away from the technique. It is the first record that Stern has made without Zach Hill (now of Death Grips) on drums - another who makes astounding demonstrations of instrumental proficiency and doesn’t just look like someone showing off – but whether it’s his departure, the passage of time, or even Mercury rising in Venus’ shadow, ‘The Chronicles Of Marnia’ is willing to sit a bit stiller than its itchy-footed predecessors.

Though only a bit. Compared to most other things, it tears along. From the opening ‘Year Of The Glad’ – brilliantly like Joanna Newsom being tickled to the tune of The Futureheads’ version of ‘Hounds Of Love’ - it barrels forward with an abandonment that borders on reckless. But what’s kind of remarkable is in the same way that Stern never makes her virtuosity sound egotistical, her recklessness momentum is forever tinged with a hint of shyness.

As much as Stern races for the horizon, she’s always pausing to glance back over her shoulder to check you’re still there. On ‘Noonan’ where she chants “Don’t you want to be somebody / don’t you want to be?” it’s 20% posed and 80% rhetorical. It leaves an album which feels personal and cathartic but a galaxy away from self-pitying despair.

‘The Chronicles Of Marnia’ is the sort of album you want to place in a velvet lined box and present to everyone who visits. It’s loveable, thrilling and properly innovative. Plus, she can totally shred.