Album reviews, prompted by recent re-listens:
Marnie Stern -- In Advance of the Broken Arm
At first the blast of drums and guitars and vocals that makes up yr typical Marnie Stern song might sound like an explosion in a music shop, but don't run for cover right away. Pay attention to the virtuoso fragments as they whiz past your ears and you'll realise that that songs such as 'Vibrational Match' and 'Plato's Fucked Up Cave' contain beautiful melodies in their jagged tangents. What does it sound like? Like Sleater Kinney blasted into a million art rock pieces, all intricate guitar parts and songs that combust and re-combust as they go on.
Forget such easy comparisons and throw yourself into the heart of the album and you'll discover the greater purpose of this musical shrapnel. It's there in the lyrics and song titles, which read like frantic notes to self: "Keep on! Keep at it! Keep on! Keep at it!", 'Put All Your Eggs In One Basket and Then Watch That Basket!!', 'Every Single Line Means Something'.
This is music that constantly challenges itself to get better, more imaginative. It'd sound hectoring if there wasn't so much going on, if every song weren't a firecracker full of ideas, just waiting to seen, heard, described, imitated, and dreamed of. On album closer 'Patterns of a Diamond Ceiling', Stern describes her method while she demonstrates it. "The picture in my head is my reward" she says, and you believe her, but you know that the picture wouldn't be half so valuable if there weren't listeners to misinterpret it for themselves. By the time all of the elements in the song have been brought together to ignite, you've learned Stern's methods, and it's time to burn your own picture into the sky. You've got the tools, you've got the know-how: go!
Masta Killa -- No Said Date
Of all the Wu-Tang MCs, who ever thought that Masta Killa would be the one to most truly embody the Clan's kung-fu philosophy? No Said Date starts with a dialogue fragment about a young apprentice seeking out to judge his master's former pupils, and follows up on this premise by hitting the Wu basics hard. Scuzzed up soul & martial arts chatter are married with forceful precision by the RZA and his disciples, while Masta Killa spits a mix of thug-chat and thoughtful flashbacks together with an attention to rhythmic intricacy that recalls Rakim in full flow. The relative lack of vocal charisma that had previously seemed to be Masta Killa's weakness works to his advantage here: no Wu-Tang rapper has ever sounded so relaxed in his own mastery as he does on this album. There are cameos from high profile Wu members, sure, but not even the frantic drama of Ghostface or the muffle-mouthed charm of the Method Man can decenter Masta Killa here. He's too busy relishing his art, finding gaps in the beat, making sure that his fellow Wu-soldiers know that he's got the skills to match them if needs be.
- ► 2009 (71)
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