April 5, 2012

Album Review: Screaming Females' Ugly


Not many indie rock bands continue to actively seek out the more traditional (and difficult) road to success, meaning Screaming Females may very well be among the last ones standing to do so. Since 2006, the New Brunswick, NJ trio have been churning out album after album, endlessly touring behind each effort throughout the basement show circuit and occasionally catching a break opening for their slightly more successful home state counterparts such as Ted Leo and Thursday. Friendly exposure and word of mouth recommendations surrounding the band's aggressive live shows has also gained the three-piece a reputation, as seeing its small-framed frontwoman Marissa Paternoster's god-like guitar shredding skills and wailing miniaturize the two tall dudes behind her has become one of music's must-see events. Five albums in, all this hard work, punk ethic perfectionism and road warrior dedication is paying off for Screaming Females on their most cohesive and engaging release yet, Ugly.

The New Jersey rockers have self-produced and recorded every album before Ugly using their own DIY devices, but for this effort, they stepped outside their comfort zone and trekked out to Steve Albini's Electric Audio studio in Chicago to lay down new material. Albini has been popping up often in the news this year thanks to engineering other high profile indie LPs from the likes of Cloud Nothings and The Cribs, but Scremales adamantly refuse to talk about their experience with the venerable sound auteur. Once you give Ugly a spin, it's obvious why. Unlike Attack On Memory, which saw the shape of Cloud Nothings' sound evolve drastically thanks to Albini's audio intervention, Screaming Females style isn't looking for an overhaul. Instead, their brand of punk-infused rock 'n roll remains fully-formed and merely benefits from the sheen end results Electric Audio provides.

Despite the fact that it's a colossal listen (14 tracks spanning nearly an hour in length,) Screaming Females have created their clearest impression to date without compromising their identity. Pasternoster's bleating vocals remain unlike any other musician out there, male or female, and in Ugly's opening moments ("It All Means Nothing," "Rotten Apples," "Extinction") she flexes a range that teeters somewhere between being wildly on edge to laying softly on dark, melodic sedation ("Crow's Next," "Help Me," "It's Nice.") As she juggles the two emotions, bassist King Mike and drummer Jarrett Dougherty meticulously cut between her dinosaur-sized riffs with seemingly effortless vigor that keeps Ugly's pace moving along steady even in its more lingering and complex moments ("Red Hand," "Expire," "Doom 84.") Working hand in hand, Screaming Females' execution is stronger here on Ugly than any other release before it because they've hit their stride in finding an interesting balance between complex song structures while never losing sight of the hook. The beauty in Ugly has little to do with who was rolling the tape in the recording studio or what tastemaker sites have said about them leading up to this release. Instead, it has everything to do with one one of indie rock's hardest working band's persistently staying loud enough so that anyone who's been living under a rock the past six years should want to listen.



Screaming Females' Ugly is available now on Don Giovanni Records.

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