New Jersey basement-rock trio Screaming Females have energy and DIY charm to spare, and on their second studio LP (and fourth release overall), Castle Talk, they flesh out their lo-fi sound, and hone their attack down to lightning-rod precision. Screaming Females don’t really sound as if they’d fit in a basement this time round; their sound – especially the powerhouse guitar shredding from front woman Marissa Paternoster – is high-voltage enough to blow the domes off arenas.
Paternoster is a force to be reckoned with, to be sure. Her guitar style alters between chunky mid-nineties power-chording in the vein of Smashing Pumpkins or even Tripping Daisy and fast and furious out-of-nowhere shredding like some virtuosic amalgamate of J Mascis and Rivers Cuomo. Vocally, she’s a toss-up between Siouxsie Sioux and Sleater-Kinney‘s Corin Tucker, with occasional hints of sweetness thrown in to offset the sneer.
While Screaming Females often sound much larger than their three pieces, they also work within the confines of the sound to blistering effect, sounding straitjacketed bouncing off the walls at times. King Mike plays bass with enough walking melody and post-punk agitation to carry the songs whilst Paternoster escapes on her extended flights of fretboard-scorching mayhem.
Castle Talk opens with the delightfully sludgy and scuzzy Laura & Marty. “Laura and Marty went to a party, and they hardlined with me,” Paternoster wails before unleashing the first of the album’s many surprisingly agile guitar solos. And while Paternoster’s skillful playing is something to behold, it seems at odds with the show-up-and-make-noise aesthetic that Screaming Females otherwise fit so neatly into. But as it is, the guitar work sets Screaming Females apart from their similarly dishevelled contemporaries and makes them worth discussing on the same plane as Dinosaur, Jr and My Bloody Valentine.
I Don’t Mind It is very nearly post-punk pop with a plucky bass line that sounds borrowed from some hyperactive rendition of Boys Don’t Cry. Boss provides incontrovertible evidence that Screaming Females have matured a bit since Power Move, allowing melody and pop sensibilities to foil the noise. “Who will you you meet when you’re in love,” Paternoster sings, sounding more forlorn than angst-ridden.
Fall Asleep is funky post-punk at its most danceable, carried by King Mike’s grounded bass line and Jarrett Dougherty’s driving, bombastic drumwork. Paternoster’s vocal is distorted, blurring out the lyrics, but during the breakdown, she clearly croons, “Once we break the mould, I’ll plug in all the holes.”
Sheep finds Paternoster going acoustic, and the ambient room noises captured in the reverb-soaked, shoegazing production spiral to near cathedral levels, largely obscuring the song’s probable loveliness. This is just before Ghost Solo brings the album to a crushing, guitar-driven close. It’s here that Paternoster’s guitar style sounds most like J Mascis – just far out enough to defy convention.
Screaming Females have certainly outgrown their nights on the New Jersey basement circuit. But they haven’t completely shed their DIY credentials. To compare Screaming Females to another New Jersey native, Castle Talk is their Born To Run, scrappy and brimming with flashes of greatness; it’s the album that could very well launch them into a lasting place in the indie rock canon.