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Riffing to shreds


Marnie Stern

In Advance of the Broken Arm
(Kill Rock Stars)
Essential: "Grapefruit"

Much has been made about how the young female avant-garde rocker Marnie Stern can "shred" on electric guitar as well, and as wildly, as any dude. Pyrotechnic showboating's fine for all the folks who buy Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen albums. But male or female, guitar flash for its own sake is, well, still just guitar flash. The real question to ask is, can she or he write a good song? On "Broken Arm," it's hard to say, really, though there are glimpses of them and of a vastly unique, peculiar talent. Ultimately, "Broken Arm" is more about indulging a massively skewed sonic perspective than a collection of songs -- and songs are something Stern's influences Sleater-Kinney always had, no matter how genre-defying. The opener, "Vibrational Match," is a topsy-turvy, upside-down cake of chaos, with Stern's gleefully shrill vocals layered and stacked high as a skyscraper, surrounded by a swarm of electric guitars that sound like a fleet of flying ambulances with every red light flashing. "Grapefruit" is only slightly less strange, sounding like a double-time pep rally by the Langley Schools Music Project. Eventually, though, the album as intriguing curio wears off, and all the hyperactive tempos and frenzied fret board hammering start to sound inevitable -- more shred than song. [Jonathan Perry]