by ANDREW BRANDT
All right, lets get it out of the way: Marnie Stern can shred. In fact, she fingerpicks at face-melting speeds throughout the entirety of her new full-length, The Chronicles of Marnia. While the album clocks in at a mere 33 minutes, the backbreaking guitar work can still feel grueling for both the listener and (I imagine) Marnie alike. However, fans of Marnie’s music are fully aware of what an album of hers going to bring, and on The Chronicles of Marnia, she brings it.
First single “Year of the Glad” also happens to open Chronicles, and (besides a little yodeling) it’s brimming with fresh starts and new beginnings. I can’t help but think the track is a reflection on the departure of drummer Zach Hill, who recently enlisted full time with Death Grips. Replaced by Kid Millions, the switch has ignited a noticeable change in the feel of Marnie’s music. “Year of the Glad”—let alone the entire album—exists in it’s own wide-eyed world, imitating the joy of a kid who gets Santa at both Christmas and Christmas in July. And I’m not trying to knock Hill here—I love Death Grips. But this album, and its sense of wonder, can only exist outside of his presence.
With that being said, “You Don’t Turn Down” takes the album down a brooding path. Here Marnie relentlessly raps over punishing guitars until the track slows to an unsettling end. Yet “Noonan” is next, a full-blown Fang Island dance party featuring a simple, yet inspiring chorus. Marnie delivers the line “Don’t you wanna be somebody?” while the ever-busy instruments at once cut out around her. It’s a potent play that causes the simple phrase to stick to your ribs. Not unlike Destroyer’s 2011 masterpiece, Kaputt, just about every song on Chronicles contains at least one of these standout, latching lines. Which makes sense, considering Marnie’s lyrics don’t present a narrative; rather, she hands out tidbits of images with each phrase, that when pieced together, craft the emotive whole. And with Chronicles, it’s almost always a positive one. When she cries, “Nothing is easy!” (on “Nothing is Easy”), Marnie is simply clarifying that she’s going to work harder. “Still Moving” is similar in it’s statement: even when everything sounds like it’s about to come unhinged, Marnie is going to keep pushing forward.
And then there’s “Proof of Life”, the epic piano “ballad”. The chord progression is destined to birth butterflies in your stomach and Marnie sounds her most sincere here, singing over it. It’s a powerful piece about doubt and the purpose of existence, and the instrumentation perfectly captures just how frightening those thoughts can be. The drums in the song’s opening seconds don’t just replicate thunder—they are thunder. And once they come crashing down, they refuse to let up for the remainder of the storm. In fewer than four minutes, Marnie and her guitar manage to let loose and re-harness the darkness.
Chronicles concludes with “Hell Yes”, a frantic, deserving victory lap. The song fades out shortly after Marnie yells, “Come on! Come on!”—an obvious call to arms to seize the day. Yet, Marnie’s not going to wait for us to join her. She’s going to continue spurting out 3-minute mission statements that never overstay their welcome—a pretty spectacular feat for an artist whose specialty is shredding. Marnie’s music is complicated, but the message is simple: The Chronicles of Marnia is about living life to the fullest, no matter what you’ve been given, no matter what lies ahead. [B]
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