Release Date: Feb 23, 2018
Record label: Don Giovanni
On the eight and a half minute, two-part suite, 'Chamber For Sleep,' which stands, monolithically, as the centrepiece of All at Once, Screaming Females stretch out like they never have done before. It starts fairly innocuously; just another supremely catchy slice of pop-punk, the likes of which is found all over All At Once. But, at the 2:28 mark, the song shifts gears.
Much of Screaming Females' appeal, and even their greatness, is their esotericism - in particular the impenetrable world of Marissa Paternoster's hermetic guitar, lyrical poetry and visual art. Their new album All At Once veers from that world sharply, collecting some of the most conventionally anthemic and melodic rock songs of their career. The ironic twist is that for the New Brunswick, New Jersey group this is their experiment, one for which their six previous albums spent developing their own inimitable sound has well prepared them.
There was a feeling in some camps that Screaming Females' 2015 record Rose Mountain was too tamed a version of the band. There's no doubt that their sixth record tended towards a more refined model of the incendiary rock of their previous efforts. But they were also up against it, in that it followed their breathless fifth album Ugly, which is rightly regarded as a high watermark in the band's history.
Screaming Females started their career as a smart, idiosyncratic punk rock band, and if they sound less like a doctrinaire punk outfit 11 years after their debut album, they're as smart and idiosyncratic as ever. The group's seventh studio album, 2018's All at Once, follows up on the progress of their previous effort, 2015's Rose Mountain, where they traded the crisply Spartan studio sound of Steve Albini's engineering for a more full-bodied production from Matt Bayles, whose approach suited the less noisy but similarly expressive attack of the band's new material. Bayles is at the controls once again for All at Once, and once again he helps Screaming Females sound as muscular as they deserve while giving them room to move and adding enough aural variety to keep things interesting.
For a long while, "all at once" was a neat summary of Screaming Females' compositional approach. It was nothing for them to, say, slot a swing break after a howling punk-rock passage; the chemistry developed in countless basements and bars just made those leaps cleaner. After four good-to-great albums as a kind of power-trio Fiery Furnaces, the New Jersey band brought their genre-bending dynamic to heel, first on 2012's Steve Albini-engineered Ugly, then on 2015's Rose Mountain.
In All At Once, this torrent of energy and virtuoso solos is then directed at unanticipated subjects, like Agnes Martin, the American abstract painter whose work is renowned for its calculated restraint. In their unlikely way, Screaming Females give voice to the silent intensity of Martin's intricately crafted canvasses. Unlike the track "Agnes Martin" itself, "Deeply", the second single taken from the LP, reflects the measured emotional depth that might be more readily associated with Martin's brand of abstraction.
When Screaming Females recorded their 2015 LP, Rose Mountain, with producer Matt Bayles (known for his work with metal bands like Mastodon, Isis and These Arms Are Snakes), many critics and fans were left divided; some saw their new crisp and bulky sound as a necessary step forward, while others found that Marissa Paternoster's unbridled punk-weaned guitar and vocal howl were left tempered and sterilized. On All at Once, their seventh LP, the New Jersey trio bring Bayles back into the fold for a set of songs so precisely crafted and so intricately written that it's almost impossible to slight, no matter how you feel about the album's sonic palette. Much of the first portion of this 15-track/50-minute album — including the simply-written but commanding opener "Glass House" and the sleek and rhythmic "Agnes Martin" — benefits from the manner in which Paternoster works off of bassist King Mike and drummer Jarrett Dougherty.
You see, Screaming Females' last album, 2015's Rose Mountain, was an absolute jam- 10 tracks of tightly focused riff-punk. That album smashed and thrashed and was even bent around a pretty-clever central theme. So, what do you do after you've reached the core of what you've been refining for 10 years? There's only one thing you can do- something completely different. Now, let's not overstate it.
Three years on from their towering 'Rose Mountain' LP, Screaming Females return with album number seven - lucky for some, and (in this case) especially those in thrall to the gargantuan powers of The Riff. A long-term exponent of the guitar's most thrilling tricks, Marissa Paternoster knows that executing 'em deftly yet plentifully is the best way to get a rock fan's blood pumping. Naturally, 'All At Once' feels suitably triumphant as she serves up the goods once more.
Screaming Females are, depending on how you frame it, either incredibly ambitious or not very ambitious at all. The New Brunswick, N.J., power trio's loyalty to their hometown scene and DIY punk ethic — not to mention their distrust of the Internet, a major theme of their new album, "All at Once" — make them the sort of band that's much better at keeping old fans than reaching new ones. Yet they certainly don't sound like they're afraid of swinging for the fences; with a singer-guitarist as commanding as Marissa Paternoster, how could they be? On "All at Once," Screaming Females indulge in a little stylistic experimentation, but their primary focus remains rocking out, hard and unrelentingly.