By Mike Mehalick, Staff Columnist
When I first encountered New Brunswick post-punkers Screaming Females at Terminal 5 back in July of 2009, admittedly I was not in my right mind for reasons I will not elaborate on here. So hopefully you’ll excuse the hyperbole when I say that it must have been destiny in that I was there to see the newly formed Jack White side project The Dead Weather and I rarely, if ever, sacrificed valuable pre-gaming time on opening bands I didn’t know back in my college days. Screaming Females, not an aesthetically pleasing name but certainly apropos as the three piece outfit led by a pint sized, matronly dressed Marissa Paternoster charged through a little less than an hour’s worth of kick-you-in-the-balls-and-crack-your-skull grunge tinged mayhem. It was love at first-string pluck.
Fast forward to present day. Screaming Females are fresh off of an impressive showing at SXSW and have established themselves as one of the best Jersey rock bands this side of Titus Andronicus and The Gaslight Anthem. Seemingly it would behoove the band to strike while the iron is hot, as they say, and strike they have.
Ugly builds on the raw power of 2010’s Castle Talk and serves as the best display of Screaming Females’ virtuoso talents diving head first into territories rarely, if ever, explored by the band. Naturally, in line with their past work, Paternoster’s Cobain-on-steroids chops sit at the forefront of bassist King Mike’s and drummer Jarret Dougherty’s impeccable rhythms. Then there are tracks like “Red Hand” which sees Screamales heading south of the border with a fuzzy, upbeat slide into Mariachi grooves. Not too far behind is “Expire” traveling further north on a surfboard straight to whatever must be Brian Wilson’s idea of hell. And is that an acoustic guitar I hear on album closer “It’s Nice”? Where the fuck are those violins coming from? With the upward progression in fame and discography comes also trumped up production of which Screaming Females easily could have drowned in indulgences. Fortunately the band finds a way to seamlessly meld the new with the familiar in a way that makes these moments less jarring working more towards a beautifully cohesive album even J. Mascis can be envious of.
That being said, if you’ve ever had a reason to favor the output of Screaming Females in the past then you’ll find an album rich in the band’s signature snarl, aggression, and searing lead guitar work. Marissa Paternoster is out of this world talented and doesn’t get anywhere close to her due working without the wide-eyedness of contemporary axewomen such as Annie Clark (St. Vincent). I’ve made the Kurt Cobain mention already so I might as well make the not-so-farfetched comparison to Nirvana’s first LP Bleach There’s less elephant sized, cock wagging, chug chugging going on but listen to Ugly and then tracks like “Love Buzz” or “Blew” and tell me you don’t hear the similarities. Somebody please call Butch Vig already so Screaming Females finally get their mainstream due, so then everyone can hate them for that.
Within the Screaming Females framework is a basic set of garage rock constants; Guitar, bass, drums, yelling, not yelling. Many more Pitchfork favored bands like Yuck and to a certain degree Best Coast have employed these tools in a more basic construct to great aplomb. What separates Screamales from the mid-afternoon festival slot jet set is an unwavering interest in maturing their talents, sound, and themes all the while cutting their teeth in small theaters and opening slots. This all pays off in their most focused effort to date and an album title that doesn’t fit nearly as well as their band name.
“Expire” by Screaming Females: