Screaming Females paid their dues in the basements and closet-size venues of New Brunswick, New Jersey, which despite its size and suburban dispersion boasts an active punk scene. Dodging bottles and cups thrown by their rowdy audiences, the trio developed considerable chops before signing with local label Don Giovanni: Jarrett Dougherty is a heavy drummer mercifully spare with fills, "King Mike" Abbate a bass player graciously liberal with melody, and Marissa Paternoster a guitar player with an enormous musical vocabulary that includes everything from classic rock to hardcore to New Wave to indie to lo-fi. Punk has traditionally prized attitude over abilities, but Screaming Females have both: Rather than muzzle their ferocity, the band's tight, tense dynamic amplifies the fuck-off stridency of their fourth LP, Castle Talk.
A righteous goofiness pervades the latest release from Screaming Females, NJ’s seminal DIY shredders. The band constantly seems to be tempering their ferocity with some blistering guitar solo or off-kilter vocal phrase, which by the way totally RIPS, thank you very much. Listening to them gives you the thrill of not knowing what they’ll do next, or how they’ll pull it off.
It’s really a shame that a Screaming Females record can’t replicate the experience of seeing them live. Not for the usual reasons—live music is more immediate, powerful, what have you—but because frontwoman, singer, and guitarist Marissa Paternoster is barely five-feet tall, and watching her produce the unearthly howls and scorching riffs and solos that propel so much of Screaming Females’ material is a unique experience. Something about it seems a little off, and it provides a perfect visual complement to the band’s fractured, classic rock inspired take on punk.
Castle Talk presents a seemingly minor but very real problem for young bands today: Is it possible for a band to regress by focusing more on songwriting? The rock canon is littered with excellent rock weirdos who got more popular (but not, in every case, better) as they went more melodic. While Castle Talk may be the fourth proper album by Screaming Females, the band members are still in their early 20s and gained national exposure only two years ago, after releasing their breakthrough third LP, Power Move. The newfound attention may or may not have influenced the songwriting, but to my ears, Castle Talk sounds like a forced attempt at "maturing" that ends up watering down what made Power Move so enthralling.