New Music: Marnie Stern, Sky Larkin, Shakira and the xx

by Maura Johnston

My greatest regret of CMJ week, which just blew through New York in a whirlwind of panels and open bars and late-night Kanye sightings, was missing the almost-dozen performances by Marnie Stern. Marnie’s self-titled album, which came out earlier this month on Kill Rock Stars, is my favorite record of the year — brash but vulnerable, energetic but melancholy, and stuffed with ideas from top to bottom. Plus, “Female Guitar Players Are The New Black” is not only a great title that sorta-forces critics to deal with their “OMG a girl is playing guitar really fast that’s like so weird” biases, it’s a whirlwind of a track, with an army of Sterns leading the assault over Zach Hill’s pummeling drumming and guitar bursts that sound like they were inspired by the “pew! pew!” sounds people make when they’re playing Finger Lasers.

The British act Sky Larkin is another act I regretted missing last week, being that they’re a pretty exciting post-post-punk act with a crazy good gutiarist. (Plus, they were touring with the outstanding duo Blood Red Shoes.) I first heard their new album Kaleide through the old-school social-networking method of “listening to a record while at a friend’s house,” and it all combined to bring me back to 1996 in a very good way:

“The Smartest Thing She Ever Said” is a Tumblr based digital storytelling art project featuring four teams of two-one artist and one story editor-between now and the end of the year. For three weeks each, the teams were asked to interpret the phrase, “The Smartest Thing She’s Ever Said.” The current team features photographer Amanda Merton and writer Alice Gregory with support from project curator Alexis Hyde. and its artists are entirely supported by Ann Taylor in collaboration with Flavorpill.

Maura Johnston likes music and is relieved that CMJ is over.