In the world of female-fronted rock, it stands to reason that there is is a great deal of territory to be explored in between Joanna Newsom and Le Tigre. Marnie Stern's greatest asset is her ability not to bridge the gap between the two, but to somehow encapsulate both all at once. Her second album, This Is It & I Am It & You Are It & So Is That & He Is It & She Is It & It Is It & That Is That, is as much of a stunner to say as it is to listen to.
There's a sense in which Marnie Stern is enjoyable by sheer velocity of her fearlessness. Here, she combines the quirkiness of twee and the dissonance of post-punk, enveloping it all in her signature guitar sound. Across this landscape, she scatters little lyrical bombs both personal and obtuse. On the album's opening track, "Prime," her staccato vocals open up a Pandora's box of sound and potential meaning. "He was just one like a prime number / He was devoid of plus," she sings, beginning a truly interesting series of twists and turns. This, like most of the rare moments where Stern's vocals overpower her guitar riffs, seems both intriguing and purposeful.
Elsewhere, as on "The Package Is Wrapped," Stern uses the powers of repetiition to give her vocals a refrain that parallels what she does on guitar. The effect is big; at once compelling and unsettling. It's a theme that carries throughout the album. With this sense of general cacophony, there's a good chance that this album is a recipe for a listener headache. At the same time, it's refreshing and different in a manner that we've come to love Stern for, and This Is It... bears repeated listens for that reason.
With each listen, the sounds separate from each other, and Stern's lyrics come more into play, tying the record together in new ways. There's perhaps no better review of what Stern does musically than in her own lyrics on the song "Roads? Where We're Going There Are No Roads": "I present two sides / my hopelessness and my faith / my ego and my heart / my feelings and my brain."
It is this contrast that is always present in Stern's work, infusing what is at times full-on guitar rock with a sense of wonder that can't be replicated. It may be something of a headache, but it's one worth risking.