After listening to a good friend exclaim time and time again that In Advance Of The Broken Arm may very well be at the top of his year-end list, I decided that if he enjoyed it that much I should at the very least listen to it. Fortunately, I finally got around to finally hunting it down, and I'm glad that I did because ahhh shit.
You've probably read it elsewhere by now, but Marnie Stern absolutely shreds on the guitar. This is her debut release, and other than a couple songs that sort of over-extend themselves (sometimes in a good way, sometimes not so much), this thirteen song album is one of the more invigorating things I've heard in some time. In fact, I've been listening to it near daily for several weeks, which is saying something considering the fact that so many different releases find their way through my stereo on a weekly basis. In some sort of weird way, you could file it alongside rocking female artists like Sleater Kinney and others, but it's really so much different that even that comparison is rather poor.
Essentially, you've got Stern on guitar and vocals, adding some occasional synths, while John-Reed-Thompson contributes bass and some keyboards. The real lynchpin in the songs is drummer Zach Hill (of Hella, Nervous Cop, and others), who adds an absolutely electric and sometimes abstract energy to the album that along with the amazing guitar playing from Stern pushes the release into some sort of new territory entirely. From the first few moments, it's pretty clear that things aren't going to be straightforward as "Vibrational Match" comes blasting out of the gates with finger-tapping style over-the-top guitars and blistering drums and synth pops while Stern adds some reverse-reverb-swept vocals and lyrics that veer between relationships and metaphysical convolution.
So in addition to the music, which rocks and is also quite dynamic without being inaccessible, the lyrics of Stern are at times bizarre, often oblique, and yet very evocative. "Put All Your Eggs In One Basket And Then Watch That Basket!!!" is not only one of the best songs on the album musically (with soaring verses that give way to completely frenzied sections), but it also takes a powerful stance lyrically, moving with a defiance that matches the blistering instrumentation. It does get a bit mathy in places, but it's really not a problem. The killer "Absorb Those Numbers" is a perfect example, with churning guitar and synth passages punctuated by synth horn bursts and over-the-top guitar heroics that zoom all over.
This is a debut, and there are a few songs that don't quite work as well. "Grapefruit" falls into somewhat annoying repetitive vocal and guitar phrases that don't quite work, while the short "The Weight Of A Rock" is easily the most messy thing on it, as frenetic rhythms butting heads with stuttering filtered vocals and dissonant guitars that never really fall into together. That said, the album as a whole bursts forth with so many ideas (including "Patterns Of A Diamond Ceiling," a song that starts out with a spoken word section and builds into something pummeling) that it just keeps pulling you back. Basically, In Advance Of The Broken Arm is a flat-out killer debut, and also serves as the announcement of a major new talent to behold.