Relatively speaking, Marnie Stern's In Advance Of The Broken Arm came out of nowhere last year and kicked me in the head. Listening to it was sort of a revelatory experience, as Stern somehow pulled together a whole batch of unique sounds in a way that was intense, powerful, and yes, a bit groundbreaking. When I heard that she already had a new album coming out, I braced myself for impact, but also tried to temper my expectations a bit, lest I find myself let down a bit (which sometimes happens when expecting follow-ups to have the same strength as the solid debuts that preceded them).
At any rate, the oddly-named 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 arrived a couple weeks ago and finds Stern continuing with the ideas she introduced on her first release while blasting into some new space as well. Her unique guitar playing and singing are made even more the focal point this time out, with pummeling, crazed drumming from Zach Hill of Hella and some bass additions from John Reed Thompson and Jonathan Hischke. The biggest difference (and the one that takes a few listens to really wrap your head around) is that there are even less anchor points to hold onto. Twelve songs rip by in just over forty minutes and there's always a frenetic movement that seems almost willfully scattered on the first couple listens.
Further spins reveal more unique patterns, though, and that's what makes this second album so convincing. "Prime" opens the release with just over two minutes of non-stop melodic shards and shifts, but the follow one-two punch is as strong as they come. "Transformer" barrel-rolls through dizzying finger-tapping guitar melodies and delirious vocals while Hill wails away and choppy choruses build tension to a breaking point. Oh, and it just blows the doors off multiple times in only two minutes. "Shea Stadium" follows and might be even better, folding over marching, minimal phrases into hand-pumping chorus sing-alongs that are as pop-oriented as Stern has ever touched.
My personal favorite on the release may very well be "The Crippled Jazzer," though. It's another song that somehow cartwheels between incredibly poppy moments, cranking blasts of guitar and percussion, and finally punches into one of the most head-banging endings I've heard this year. The release is solid throughout its twelve songs, but there are plenty of places that just feel mind-melting. Album closer, "The Devil Is In The Details" is one of those, which seems to elevate even a bit more with the addition of some clanging piano and some expositions that finally feel like they're winding things down rather than moving in the other direction. Because of all the movement and shifts and bursts from different directions, this is one of those releases that feels a bit longer than it actually is, but not in a bad way. Mathy, but hyper melodic, it packs more ideas into forty minutes than most releases that are much longer. Stern has clearly side-stepped the sophomore slump.