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In Advance of the Broken Arm

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Album Review

On the one hand it's almost hilarious to call Marnie Stern's music "indie rock," given the quality of her technical gifts as a finger-tapping electric guitarist (bottom line: she's a firebrand). She has a unique style that is precise and knotty and seemingly would be at home in some prog rock band of her own design. Except for one thing: her songwriting adheres to quirky lyrics and is defined by a flip-flop, herky-jerky (somewhat ) homemade rock & roll aesthetic. In Advance of the Broken Arm was written over a couple of years in her apartment on New York's Upper East Side, and was co-produced with the equally hyperactive and truly inventive drummer Zach Hill (Hella), with contributions from John Reed Thompson (who also engineered and mixed the set). Hill remains a pop songwriter — albeit a fractured one. These songs are noisy, full of shards and sharp edges — there is a New York no wave lineage at work here to be sure — but they contain unmistakable hooks and strategies that set them firmly in the pocket. This music is loud and obnoxious but endearing, and in the sonic wail and skip of "Vibrational Match" one can hear everything from the lineage of David Byrne's irresistible outsider charm from his days with Talking Heads to the sonic rock & roll attack of Chavez, the rock & roll swagger of Sleater-Kinney (Stern's initial inspiration to write songs), and the free-for-all fun of the Boredoms and Melt Banana. Stern's multi-tracked vocals are elfin and authoritative as well as playful. She can conjure a chanted rock & roll anthem with power chords or knotty twist-and-turn lead and sung lines ("Grapefruit"). She can transform a standard six-string riff into an intricate, turn-on-a-dime, sonically warped avant construct without losing her groove ("Every Single Line Means Something") or engender jagged-edged chaos — with help from Hill's frenetic, over the top drumming ("The Weight of a Rock"). There isn't anything subtle about In Advance of the Broken Arm. It swaggers and twirls, careens and cavorts with disaster at every moment, but always manages to keep its insane energy in focus with infectiously good humor to boot. This album is the prescription for anyone who thinks rock has imploded or has nothing new to offer. This record may flaunt its excesses — and there are many but they're mostly all welcome (Stern's album is "maximalist" indie rockism, after all) — without concern or hesitation, but it is perhaps forward enough in its reach and ambition to act as a spark for as-yet-unheard rockers writing in bedrooms everywhere.


Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

It wasn't until she was 23, when she heard Sleater-Kinney for the first time, that Marnie Stern's life began to take her in the direction of the noise- and punk-inspired experimental rock that would later define her music. She soon began learning finger-tapping techniques on her electric guitar and assiduously began practicing and recording songs until she had enough for a demo. Stern sent the tape to Kill Rock Stars, which immediately signed the young singer/guitarist to their 5RC imprint. The folding...
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In Advance of the Broken Arm, Marnie Stern
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