Label: Kill Rock Stars Release date: 05/10/10 Link: Marnie Stern /'For Ash' I became aware of Marnie Stern due to her involvement with Zach Hill, a longtime favourite drummer of mine. Her rapid time signature shifts, near virtuoso level tapping, and bright vocals were as appealing as Hill’s machine gun drumming. While her second album (which has a title too long to print) was a maturation of the sound from her debut In Advance of the Broken Arm, her third album (simply titled Marnie Stern) is a step towards crystallizing her wholly singular sound. With enough to draw in newcomers and keep longtime fans interested, Marnie Stern continues 2010’s trend of artists moving towards more mature sounds. Immediately noticeable in the time signature of opener ‘For Ash’ is how much the high end has been peeled back off of everything. The guitar rings clearly, without the piercing brightness that dominated Stern’s previous records. Even her voice has been rendered as a richer instrument, using reverb and dark equalization to remove the sharpness that punctured the math backings’ own needle-like existence on previous outings. It’s a welcome change, one that embraces and envelops, letting Stern’s guitar stand out clearly as a backing instrument for once. For God’s sake, she even manages to write a rollicking 6/8 slice of genius (‘Risky Biz’) in place of constant tapping, a move that is not unheard of in her discography but one that stands out next to the straightforward rock of ‘Transparency Is The New Mystery’ and the Don Cab meets Deerhoof of ‘Female Guitar Players Are The New Black’ (a title that actually made me laugh when I first read it). Above all here, the instruments feel tighter, more content to relax when needed and transition to jumpy patterns when dictated. It’s the kind of songwriting that can kill math rock performers, but Stern’s powerful voice and Hill’s even more powerful drums (which sound like they were made out of thunder and lightning) levitate the album into true math rock. I hate to be so brief in reviewing what has been one of the best things I’ve heard in the past two months, but it’s impossible to explain how Stern’s music really sounds. There are hints of classic prog and math, snatches of avant-garde, sly surf rock moments, and enough guitar to make anyone happy. Historically speaking, Marnie Stern has a damn good track record. While almost all the songs here are absolutely killer, ‘Building a Body’ tends to get a little dull compared to the tunes around it yet stands fine on its own if taken as a single serving solo. While hardly a “perfect” album, this is damn good. I have no qualms in declaring this one of the top albums of the new fall season. Photobucket