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It’s been a decade since we last heard from Marnie Stern, and in her absence, the indie music world has become overrun with an army of anti-Marnies i.e. corporate clones making banal playlist rock lacking in the whimsy, creativity, and virtuosity that made Stern’s take on rock music such a singular sound in the late 2000s. But when Stern’s guitar bursts in like a shower of stardust on The Comeback Kid, her long-awaited follow-up to 2013’s The Chronicles of Marnia, it’s like no time has passed. Marnie Stern is back—and not a moment too soon.

Stern empowered herself on The Comeback Kid by continually pushing outside of her comfort zone, which included trying not to lean too heavily on the tapping technique that launched a thousand Eddie Van Halen comparisons—”I think I was relying on it as a crutch a little bit,” she admits. To that end, some of her favorite tracks on The Comeback Kid are the ones that challenged her the most, such as “Til It’s Over,” as straight-ahead an “alternative rock” song as Stern has ever made (“Prettier songs are always harder for me to do.''), or the cover of Ennio Morricone’s “Il Girotondo Della Note,” where Stern pushes her vocals to uncomfortable heights in order to mimic the original’s choral arrangements. “I’m all about individuality and trying to be different and sticking out instead of blending in and taking risks with yourself; that's what I try and do in my music because if it embarrasses me, then I force myself to keep going with it,” says Stern.

That sense of taking joy in your individuality is all over The Comeback Kid, which really is what the title says: the story of an artist coming back to the world with the hard-earned wisdom that making music which truly reflects who you are in all your brightness, boldness, and (yes) weirdness, is always something worth celebrating, and maybe the key to happiness in the end. “This record is about reassuring yourself that happiness is not about what kind of things you have or how many things you have or what you don’t have—it’s about all the good things you do,” says Stern.

- Mariana Timony