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QUICK SPINS: Marnie Stern, Dustin Wong

By Jon Graef in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 5, 2010 7:40PM

Chicago is seeing two upcoming shows from indie-rock guitar wizards. First is Marnie Stern, who is touring behind her current, self-titled release. Second is Ponytail guitarist Dustin Wong, who hits the Hideout on Sunday in support of Infinite Love, his latest solo album.

Marnie Stern
Marnie Stern

2010_11_marnie-stern.jpg New York-based shredder Marnie Stern is understandably renowned for her prodigious guitar-playing talents—just take a listen to the barrage of two-handed, Van Halen-style taps in cuts like “Transformer” and “This American Life” if you need convincing. However, Stern is tremendously underrated in that she rarely gets credit adding emotional heft to a style of music that typically lacks it.

Hardly anyone would mistake Stern’s first two albums for album-length, Joni Mitchell-style confessionals. But songs like “Roads? Where We’re Going We Don’t Need Roads” and “Vault” do provide insights into their creator’s worldview while also stomping on listeners’ mind-grapes with dense, polyrhythmic, but wildly melodic math-pop. What’s surprising, then, about Stern’s self-titled third album is not that it’s emotionally focused. Rather, it’s how direct those emotions are.

Stern, along with octopus-armed drummer and producer Zach Hill, allow the flurry of musical activity—which is as intricate, but accessible, as ever—to breathe alongside the strong emotional currents. Songs on Marnie Stern, like “For Ash,” about an ex-boyfriend’s suicide, and “Female Guitars Are The New Black,” about Stern’s frustration about with her marginalization as a female musician, have deep, melancholy-tinged melodies. But the music, as always, emerges to a full-speed, triumphant crescendo. For 10 songs, Marnie Stern proves that, no matter how cold the emotional winter may be, there’s a spring time of cathartic rock n’roll ahead.

MP3: Marnie Stern "For Ash"

Marnie Stern performs Wednesday, November 10, at Empty Bottle, 1035 N Western Ave, 9:30 p.m., $12, 21+

Dustin Wong
Infinite Love

2010_11_DUSTIN_WONG.jpg As part of Baltimore art-rock band Ponytail’s two-guitar attack, Dustin Wong, along with Jeremy Hyman, is responsible for that group’s joyfully spastic art-rock sound. Now that Ponytail is on indefinite hiatus, Wong seems to be exploring a more patient side of his artistic persona.

Make no mistake about it: patience is definitely the watchword when it comes to Infinite Love, Wong’s second full-length for local label Thrill Jockey. Infinite Love is a double album consisting of two forty-minute mood pieces, divided up into two sides labeled “brother” and “sister.” Each piece starts and ends with similar musical motifs, but has contrasting middle sections.

Those with the patience to wade through all eighty-plus minutes of Love will find Wong weaving a guitar-orchestra tapestry while thoughtfully adding and layering euphoric soundscapes. The end result suggests a collaboration of Ponytail with Cleveland experimental trio Emeralds. But given how so much of the music is exactly identical, it shouldn’t be surprising that listeners will be pressing fast forward often. Despite its self-indulgent conceit, Infinite Love is a compelling, rewarding listen, but whether or not Wong pulls it off in a live setting is an entirely different matter.

MP3: Dustin Wong "Talking Walking Cloud"

Dustin Wong performs Sunday, November 7, at Hideout, 1354 W Wabansia Ave, 9:00 p.m., $5 , 21+