Marnie Stern does seem like a character from a rock ’n’ roll fantasy story. A self-taught Van Halen with the voice of a hyperactive teenaged J-pop star, a composer with an alien sense of rhythm, and a lyricist just as likely to speak in pep rally chants as introspective abstractions, Stern is always all of these things. Her latest album somehow becomes more strange and unclassifiable with repeated listens while remaining completely immediate and engaging. Kid Millions (Oneida) replaces drummer Zach Hill (Death Grips), on this album, switching out proggier rhythms for Hill’s heavy and erratic drumming, contributing significantly to cleaner production and more focused songwriting.
The tighter, more restrained (an extremely relative idea on any of Stern’s albums) drumming lets melody drive the songs as much as rhythm, allowing Stern’s sound to expand and evolve without losing its original distinction. The composition is possibly more schizophrenic than ever. Opener “Year of the Glad,” stacks verses on top of what seems to be the instrumental intros to seven heavy metal epics melted together; somehow, it all forms a coherent whole. “Nothing Is Easy” takes one of Sterns most signature chops — the high-fret finger tap — into a choral soundscape from an alternate reality. “Proof of Life” is darker and more direct, like a Hole song sung on top of a Rush song. If that description makes an incredible song sound like a horrible one, consider that the only clear thing about The Chronicles of Marnia is that it’s almost impossible to figure out exactly what the hell is going on here. See it for yourself with the video for “Immortal” here.