Marnie Stern, a native New Yorker with an ax to (literally) grind, is blessedly free of anything "dulcet," unlike so many of her female art-pop contemporaries. Instead, Stern's muses — Sleater-Kinney, Don Caballero, AC/DC — have taught her the way of the master shredder: techniques like spitfire arpeggios, arrhythmic tapping and fuzzed-out power chords that tilt at the law of angular momentum. Yet, while Stern's sophomore release may ride the rails, it never jumps them, thanks to Stern's grasp of pop music's more prosaic conventions (say, melody) and time signatures that shift in accordance with Hella drummer Zack Hill's rolling beats.
There's something undeniably feminine about Stern's voice, pleasantly high-pitched yet powerful as it veers from sing-speak ("Shea Stadium") to full-throated chromatic sweeps ("Roads? Where We're Going We Don't Need Roads"). It's a perfect platform for Stern's exquisite-corpse-like ramblings, like on "Steely," which has her riffing on Hamlet and existential desire. Stern's a master of taking a song's bridge and stretching it like putty— some songs are nothing but bridge, which gives listeners the sensation of being suspended in midair as the world cycles beneath. "Are you ready to feel alive!" Stern demands on "Transformer," a power-pop juggernaut kept in check by Hill's seismic rumblings. Spellbound and mute, all we can do is nod her our blessing.