Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe
The hammer-on was always a joke during my high school and college years, a cheesy heavy metal signifier on par with the devil’s-horn gesture and spandex pants. But for New York art-rocker Marnie Stern the hammer-on is bread and butter. She picked up the techqnique after watching a Don Caballero video, and many of the reviews and articles I've read about her use the term "shredder" without irony. Her recent debut album, In Advance of the Broken Arm (Kill Rock Stars), alternately threads in and globs on the technique on just about every song (though it sounds like there’s quite a bit of multitracking going on, so I can’t always be sure what’s what). It helps that she’s got Hella drummer Zach Hill (as well as bassist and keyboardist John-Reed Thompson) pounding away behind her, as their hard-charging precision helps shape Stern’s distinctively weird songs.
She sings in a nasal whine that you’d probably expect from your typical prog-rock dork—her voice is multitracked as well, which softens some of her more abrasive tendencies—and her vocal lines are less concerned with melody than following the jagged, high velocity trajectory of her hyperactive guitar lines. The first time I listened to the album I wanted to dive through a plate glass window—it’s so frenetic it makes 180 bpm seem slow—but subsequent spins have grabbed me. It’s a bit samey, with very little dynamic range to speak of, and I can’t help but wonder if Stern will eventually add something else to her repertoire (she does play some conventional runs and chords, just so you know), but for now I’m sort of enthralled. Stern makes her Chicago debut with a gig on Monday, March 19 at Ronny’s.