In order to properly review Screaming Females, one must incorporate these words: diminutive, shred and girl. Few descriptions of the band get beyond a slack-jawed amazement that diminutive woman Marissa Paternoster shreds, and sings in a titanic voice that dips between full-throated shouts and a Grace Slick-like vibrato. Even fewer, though, note the absolute weirdness of the band’s songwriting, a mélange of influences and styles on display in this singles compilation.
In interviews, Paternoster has described her early guitar-playing compadres as serious-minded brah-jam/prog fans, and she plays with an unrelentingly intense technique, all rapid-fire squeals and dizzying scales. The cultural milieu to which she and her bandmates, bassist Mike Rickenbacker and drummer Jarrett Dougherty, belong though, is New Brunswick punk, where Husker Du-via-Lifetime provided the background sounds of the ‘90s. Their first single, “Arm In Arm,” for instance, is almost straightforward pop-punk, albeit with a slightly more classic-rock guitar sound rather than the typical clean but heavily-compressed guitar you might expect for such a song. The B-side, “Zoo of Death,” though, could be diagrammed like a sentence: a poppy beginning with a ch-chunk guitar scratch, transitioning into a dub verse, a Sleater-Kinney sounding pre-chorus, and a giant ROCK chorus. As compelling as each individual part might be, it takes a few listens to test the seams of these disparate sounds.
The two best songs on this comp work because the different parts of each song don’t sound like they were generated by entirely different groups of people, and because Paternoster’s playing complements the songs rather than creating a diversion. An oddly likable cover of “Cortez the Killer” has big between-verse breaks where swirling psych solos are ideally juxtaposed against Paternoster’s urgent delivery. On “No Being Disgusting,” a smart bassline and a fantastically catchy, hi-hat-heavy drum part mesh with the guitar part, rather than merely backing it.
This six-song CD upholds the tradition of earnestness transmitted through the bloodlines of New Jersey punk. Retailing for a mere $5, Singles saves fans eBay dollars and bin-scanning effort; with their rapid ascent over the past year as they toured with Dinosaur Jr., Jack White’s the Dead Weather, and Throwing Muses, Screaming Females have grown in popularity beyond the limited pressings of their earlier records. Their more recent work, particularly 2009’s full-length Power Move has shown more internal cohesion, recalling the punk-Zeppelin fusion of The Woods-era Sleater-Kinney. It’s nice to see a screaming female (sorry) with real talent back at the forefront of indie rock; this band definitely doesn’t sound like other bands around these days, and hopefully they’ll develop their songwriting to a point where it’s more distinctive than unexpected.