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Listening

A Stern Mouth- and Earful

On a short list of guitar-tapping ladies, Marnie Stern applies her technique to power pop, and the result is it. (It is fun.)

Shortly after the release of her first album early last year, Marnie Stern was featured alongside Kaki King in a New York Times article for, essentially, being a woman who plays guitar really well. It's hard to estimate how accurate the Times's assumption is that virtuosic performers are rarely found in "indie" music. The writer looks all the way back to the birth of the punk rock ethos as proof that "indie," its supposed descendant, is by definition couched in a simplistic musical approach. The genre label, however, is increasingly difficult to qualify since it's applied as a modifier to everything from noise to folk to hip-hop to pop. One need look no further than such diverse artists as Jonny Greenwood, Andrew W.K., or recently Digest-featured James Blackshaw to see that technically proficient musicians also regularly court the "indie" marketplace. What the Times piece does get right, unfortunately, is that, outside of classical performance, women are rarely those virtuosos (although Stern herself is uncomfortable with such an assessment of her own craft).

What's awesome about her music, though, is the way she takes these Van Halen-inspired loops of ebullient guitar tapping and applies it to power pop, which produces a joycoretastic cacophony of glorious energy and exhiliration. It's progressive pop. It's bubblegum metal. Whatever. Most importantly, it's fun. These seemingly disparate elements converging under her staccato, saccharine soprano--like on "Ruler" from her forthcoming second album, This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That (phew!)--go a long way to proving that these genre assignations are porous and lose validity when confronted with artists who continue challenging the rules. And that is it.
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TMN Editor Erik Bryan is living the dream. He grew up in Florida, but he’s from all over. He likes playing chess, making cocktails, smarting off, and not freezing to death in Brooklyn, where he currently resides. More by Erik Bryan

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