A five-foot-tall, pixie-voiced girl who shreds like Eddie Van Halen, Marnie Stern had all the makings of a novelty when she debuted in 2007. But it didn’t take long for her impressive gifts as a songwriter and her limitless creativity on the fretboard to establish her alongside Annie Clark, Dave Longstreth and Carrie Brownstein as one of contemporary indie rock’s gnarliest guitarists. In anticipation of her upcoming stand this Friday at the Korova, we take a look at the shreddiest tracks in Stern’s back catalog.
“Vibrational Match” | In Advance of the Broken Arm | 2007
Aspiring guitar goddesses take note: This is how to make an introduction. Leading in with what would become her trademark finger-tap guitar lines, the track then erupts behind Zach Hill’s (Hella, Death Grips) pyrotechnic drum fills and Stern’s crashing power chords. What follows is a barrage of pure energy: multiple tempo changes and guitar parts piled ever higher atop one another, all climaxing in Stern’s triumphant cry of “I hear it!” We do too, Marnie.
“Ruler” | This Is It… | 2008
Imagine Kirsten Dunst’s Bring It On with Van Halen II as the soundtrack and you’re pretty damn close to “Ruler,” Stern’s closest brush with writing a genuine pop track. The single-note chanted verses come off like a squad of possessed cheerleaders, leading to a singsong chorus set atop a bed of warbly guitar runs. Then the bottom falls out, and the whole track descends into a hellish abyss of spiraling guitar lines before going right back to the bubbly chorus. It’s a hell of a ride for three and a half minutes.
“Cinco de Mayo” | Marnie Stern | 2010
For all her guitar heroics, the not-so-secret weapon that separates Stern from, say, Yngwie Malmsteen, is her killer songwriting. “Cinco de Mayo” might be the best balance of song and shred she’s yet managed. The finger-tapping, big power-chord riffs and on-a-dime tempo shifts are all still here. But so is a soaring chorus and a heart-on-the-sleeve vocal performance that brings it all to a heartbreaking close.
“East Side Glory” | The Chronicles of Marnia | 2013
I’ll stop short of calling “East Side Glory” a ballad, but in Stern’s world, it might as well be her “Purple Rain.” Swapping out human Tesla coil Zach Hill on drums for the more understated Kid Millions (Oneida), “East Side Glory” leaves its insistent riff and minor-key synths to prop up a wonderfully reflective and longing vocal turn. Restraint, as it turns out, is a good look for Stern, and “East Side Glory” just might set her path forward.
Marnie Stern feat. Boyfrndz, Feuding Fathers, Ghost Police
8pm Fri, Sept 5
107 E Martin