Release Date: Apr 3, 2012
Record label: Don Giovanni
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
I cannot think of an album title that, in combination with the band’s name, describes the sound of the album as well as Screaming Females' Ugly does. Save for the false plurality (Vocalist/guitarist Marissa Paternoster is the only female in the band), the idea of a harsh, loud, and violent nature of the album is reflected perfectly. Taking the remarkable guitar tones of Wild Flag but trading in the lighter lyrics for all of Titus Andronicus’ spite, Ugly is easily one of the best guitar albums in the past several years.
Strictly on paper, the Screaming Females have never been a band to raise eyebrows. The New Jersey trio has remained locked in their guitar-bass-drums configuration for their entire existence, and have for the most part played what can be called no-frills rock, with tinges of punk and classic rock thrown in for good measure. However, it is their continued insistence on stretching and contorting this template, while not explicitly stating any sort of mission or direction for their sound, that makes them a band worth watching and revisiting.
Working with Steve Albini on their fifth album, Ugly, Screaming Females take full advantage of the raw, biting sound the famed engineer has become known for. With a sound that sits somewhere between Sleater-Kinney and Dinosaur Jr., the New Jersey power trio delivers yet another batch of high-energy guitar worship that once again makes a strong case for frontwoman Marissa Paternoster being the second coming of J Mascis. Hooky and riff-heavy, Screaming Females are a refreshingly gnarly band in a time when indie rock seems to be getting increasingly precious.
The Screaming Females story begins with sweaty, ask-a-punk gigs in New Brunswick, New Jersey, at such dank, quasi-legal basements as Meat Town USA. As the tale goes, drummer Jarrett Dougherty suffered from tendonitis during the band's infancy, which barred him from drumming for weeks on end. While recovering he spent much time with Michael Azerrad's seminal survey of 1980s indie rock in America, Our Band Could Be Your Life, presumably getting stuck on the ethos, humility, and hybrid rock stylings of the Minutemen.
Screaming FemalesUgly[Don Giovanni Records; 2012]By Jon Blistein; April 3, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetI can never really tell if the New Brunswick music scene — which has, with impressive consistency, churned out fantastic bands for the better part of the past 25 years — is appropriately recognized or criminally overlooked. With very few to simply no legitimate venues (the last legal one, The Court Tavern, closed a few months ago), the college town/city’s basements have been a breeding ground for all kinds of hardcore, pop-punk, emo, and any/everything that could possibly be categorized somewhere in between. There is any number of reasons for why New Brunswick has never really had a spotlight moment like Seattle or Omaha: You could chalk it up to proximity to New York, multiple “sounds of New Brunswick,” the insularity that’s necessarily a product of police crackdowns on basement concerts forcing show flyers to note venue locations with an enigmatic, “ask a punk,” or perhaps it was just a lack of a defining local label.
Marissa Paternoster’s voice isn’t for everyone. If you haven’t already figured it out over Screaming Females’ now five-album discography, the wailing singer’s howl for some is startlingly different and for others touches on unlistenable. This voice gives the band’s name—which has the potential to be fitting for many female-fronted punk-rooted bands—a new, direct meaning.
On Ugly, the Jersey trio strikes an expert balance between grandiose metal riffage and brain-searing, infectious punk. There are urging head-nodders (“Rotten Apple,” “Expire”; the latter containing a particularly tasty touch of surf-rock swing), while others (“Doom 84,” “High”) lean on expanded bits of muddy guitar and much darker vocals from Marissa Paternoster. Opener “It All Means Nothing” swings the door wide open and closer “It’s Nice” is a rare quiet spot that brings Ugly to a real pretty close.
A unique voice can make a big difference on a rock album; esoteric, exciting vocals can make bad albums tolerable, or (as in the case of Screaming Females’ latest, Ugly) they can make a good album great. The New Brunswick, NJ trio’s blend of parading indie punk and fuzzy college rock is a heady mix, but Marissa Paternoster’s skyscraping, jet-fueled delivery pushes it over the top, reaching heights that exceed the sum of the parts. An easy note of comparison for Paternoster’s delivery would be Sleater-Kinney’s Corrin Tucker, but to say that this is a direct copy would be a disservice.
You can’t help but get the feeling that everything is coming together in the right place at the right time for Screaming Females. After paying their dues on the Jersey basement circuit and gigging at a dive club near you, Screaming Females find themselves at a perfect convergence of circumstances with the release of their fifth LP Ugly, as the skills they’ve been honing over time are complemented by a growing profile that has allowed them the means to make the most of their vision. Indeed, it’s telling that the trio enlisted Steve Albini to engineer Ugly, going through a rite of passage that underground acts of the same weight class have on their way to bigger and better things.