Monday, February 23, 2015

Screaming Females, Rose Mountain, 2015

Album Review

Premiering at NPR. A producer (Matt Bayles). Airplay on the mainstream SiriusXMU. The cover of the SPIN. Our favorite New Jersey hard rock power trio (well, mine) look like they're making their way out of the basement. Not so fast, though. While Rose Mountain sounds as put together as anything Screaming Females have put out to date; and while it even contains a few slow, pretty numbers, there is still enough fire, rage, and rawness that my notes are illegible in some places because I couldn't stay calm enough to write clearly.

Opener "Empty Head" starts with a big, poppy riff; and the verse and pre-chorus are catchy as well. Screaming Females and Marissa Paternoster can't stay too poppy for too long, though. The song deals with the familiar subject matter of a deteriorating relationship, but things become dark and gothic-sounding with the chorus as Paternoster sings " bring the songs of cherubim into your empty head." It goes out on a solo that hits that signature tone I just love from this band. That happens all the way through the album.

Throughout the record, which sounds like a breakup album, Paternoster's lyrics mirror her visual art, which is full of complex, wild, and beautifully disturbing takes on the human form. There are many references in the songs to the body and bones and blood and physicality.

Single "Ripe" builds on an opening squeal of noise and King Mike's bass as Paternoster sings, "I said, 'Peel the skin raw... ...pinch it 'til the feeling's gone.'" Amidst the driving bass and metal-influenced guitar, though, she pleads, sounding kind of vulnerable, "...and if you're through with me, please just say so."

Early single, and the song you'll hear on Sirius, "Wishing Well," is a stone masterpiece. It's a change of pace for Screaming Females with its surfy jangle, but it gives Paternoster's bellow a chance to shine. "I toss dimes in the wishing well, but I'm broke 'cause you took all of me." I like to read that as a having the double meaning of financially broke and physically broken. One of my favorite songs in a long time.

"Broken Car" has kind of a retro-y, 60s garage rock feel with its "whoo ooo ooos." "Hopeless," which sees Paternoster "trapped at home waiting for you to call," also feels like an updated take on a 50s or 60s ballad.

"Broken Neck" could be referencing Paternoster's bout with pain and illness a few years back. Unsurprisingly, the physical images are there again with references to "swollen bones," "after-birth," and "stretching skin."

The title track starts simply with bass and drummer, Jarrett Dougherty. Paternoster comes in with some more metal-y chords before things quiet down a bit as she sings, "I'm nothing like the others. I was made just for you." The song includes some backing "ooo ooos" and goes out with some lo-fi, music box-like harpsichord.

"Triumph" and album-closer "Criminal Image" are the tracks that most heavily reference Screaming Females' earlier sounds. They're both jammy without spinning off the rails and feature Paternoster's trademark sonic references to the 90s and Billy Corgan. "Criminal Image," in particular, contains some physical references again: "draw your blood," "drag a needle on your skin," "cups of your tears," "blood in your kiss." It also has a pretty cool Book of Exodus / Passover reference with "Crimson red paint on my door. You skipped over me before."

Screaming Females sound as good as they ever have on a recording with Rose Mountain. Paternoster opens herself up with songs of love and breakup, but her most pining lyrics are always offset by some more raw blood and guts imagery. Musically, the fire and the crushing blows from the band show that sadness and anger are often two sides of the same coin.

This should be a breakout for Screaming Females, but who even knows what that means anymore? It will, for sure, send them hurtling beyond the basements of New Jersey in a way that their previous releases haven't. I'm sure, though, if you keep your eyes peeled, you'll be able to find them at some small DIY venue no matter how big they get.

Rose Mountain comes out tomorrow on Don Giovanni Records. The band will play an in-store at Brooklyn's Rough Trade tomorrow night (LP purchase at the store required to obtain wrist bands), and they will headline Night 3 of the Don Giovanni Records Showcase on February 28th with two sold-out shows at The Knitting Factory. We get to see them closer to home when they return to Asbury Lanes on April 4th with new Don Giovanni signee, Mitski.

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