In the arena of charming and entertaining indie-music figures, Marnie Stern stands unopposed. The Manhattan resident frequently knocks out vivacious interviews, has stirred up beef with fellow indie sweetheart Best Coast over BC's purported shallowness, and has used her attractiveness to her advantage by setting up a pay-to-play kissing booth at shows. What's more, to coincide with The Chronicles of Marnia, she's letting Kill Rock Stars throw a contest called "Win a Release-Date Date with Marnie Stern." But although Stern easily wins attention through her off-record personality, her on-record personality is where the true allure is to be found. On Marnia, her terrific fourth album, she comes across as a forgotten nymph of Greek mythology — an elusive figure renowned for her shadowy charisma and piquant, guitar-driven indie-pop math rock. Armed with her instrument, Super Marnie turns into Fire Marnie, shooting off golden-light-emitting, shredding-and-fingertapping-born riffs in every direction. She has one preferred tone — spend a bit of time with Stern and it's instantly recognizable — but it's a distinct, smart thing delivered with gusto and grace, so it works magic four out of five times. A whole mess of other elements are in play too: the lithe drumming of guest Kid Millions, weird vocal stylings (i.e., monkey noises), weird instrumental passages (is that a kazoo in "Nothing Is Easy"?), and — most important — her self-doubting lyrics. Marnia puts a diary's worth of mantras and questions forward with little context or elaboration. Both of more would be helpful. "All my life, it's based on fantasy/And all the gods have stopped talking to me," she states in "Proof of Life" in a plain, shattered voice. In "Noonan," she asks, "Don't you want to be somebody?," temporarily inspired but terrified that she won't ever be somebody. These on-record musings never reveal the off-record Marnie, which is a shame, but the sprawling, chimerical Marnia brings you close enough to be captivating anyhow.
MARNIE STERN + ROOMRUNNER:: Great Scott, 1222 Comm Ave, Allston :: April 14 :: 9 pm :: 18+ :: $10 :: 617.566.9014 or greatscottboston.com