Eddie Van Halen's famous largess for squeezing maximum notes into each bar of every solo became the measure of guitar greatness during the 1980s. His flamboyant finger tapping style represented the pinnacle of rock 'n' roll innovation at the time. And while his technique and talent never have escaped the respect of his peers, the music was eventually cast aside like so many pairs of zebra-print spandex pants. It's safe to say no one has been quite so "Hot For Teacher" since those heady days.
Fast forward 20 years. After consecutive decades of slumber, rumblings of the trademark '80s guitar eruption come tapping from the fingers of a new guitar goddess. Marnie Stern sits among a crop of talented musicians who don't exactly follow the prototypical gunslinger blueprint. Along with Stern, Carrie Brownstein (formerly of Sleater-Kinney), Kaki King and Joanna Newsom represent a breed of artists not afraid to shred, even if it doesn't fall in line with indie-chic shoe-gazing.
Drawing from influences as varied as Hella, The Flying Luttenbachers, Lightning Bolt and even Yoko Ono, Stern's style commands attention from the first note. Stern herself describes her musical development as a combination of happy accident and osmosis. "I never actually tried to play any one else's material and I think that helped me find my own style," Stern says, "but I'm sure it [other artists' styles] seeped in somehow."
Stern's newest release, 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 a jarring-yet-fascinating convergence of extreme elements. Stern's assertive guitar work is accented by equally relentless drums; compositions are tightly wound and mixed with stadium-sized grandeur. It's nothing short of an all-out musical assault.
But what keeps it from being a typical aggro-rock record, a la Limp Bizkit or System Of A Down, is Stern herself. Her lyrics don't ring with the requisite aggression designed to inspire ultimate fighters and even if they did, her voice is more dialed to cheerleader than linebacker. "I try to make the lyrics and the music as positive and forward-moving as possible. I am always looking for inspiration in life, and so I try and write lyrics that I would want to hear," Stern says.
The result of her inspiration on This Is It... has produced a romp that is simultaneously cheerful and aggressive. And while her blonde locks, fast hands and zealous vocals may not be at home with the standardized understatement characteristic of American indie music on the whole, This Is It... may just leave you breathless—and hot for teacher once again.