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Screaming Females - Castle Talk

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Artist: Screaming Females

Album: Castle Talk

Label: Don Giovanni

Review date: Sep. 17, 2010

Fugazi, Black Sabbath, Sleater-Kinney – these are all the bands I thought of as I listened to Screaming Females’ new album, Castle Talk. Because the band itself isn’t distinct, I reached for touchstones and hallmarks. That’s not a slur – how many bands can be truly singular? These references are used, in many cases out of sheer laziness, but also when faced with the utter mass of musicians producing work. In the absence of singularity, of epoch-defining work and the complete changing of paradigms, we’re left with a lot of musicians that do good, if not undifferentiated, work. In philosophy of science, Thomas Kuhn called this Normal Science, the work of the scientist with her head down just moving ahead. What do we want to say? Normal Art?

The work of the Nomal Artist is to play in the boundaries defined by the paradigm changing artists. They move ahead bit by bit, advancing the aesthetic genres, postmodernly mixing things, maybe performing a particular genre particularly well, maybe capturing the zeitgeist, maybe simply being yeomen artists doing the work that has to be done. Normal Artists can be fun or catchy or uninspired or drab. They can capture your interest or derision, but I think perhaps the defining characteristic is that they won’t really inflame the passions.

I was thinking about this while listening to Castle Talk. Earlier last week, I heard Cymbals Eat Guitars. Not bad. They sound like Modest Mouse, maybe Built to Spill in parts. Screaming Females remind me of Hot Rock-era Sleater-Kinney a bit, Sabbathy-riffs, too. While Castle Talk can’t raise in me the kinds of feelings The Hot Rock or Master of Reality does, those bands are no longer (really) around. Modest Mouse and Built to Spill are not really making vital music, so it’s left to the Normal Musicians to pick up the pieces. Batman gets killed (or whatever psychedelic time crud Grant Morrison did with him) and Nightwing becomes Batman. Bucky becomes Captain America. The paradigm creators die and someone takes over for them.

The hope, of course, is that Normal Artists sufficiently explore and develop the logic of the paradigm, heightening it until it reaches its logical conclusion – some kind of crisis point – where it transforms itself into the next genre, the next age or whatever. In the postmodern era, where every sad asshole complains about how it’s all been done before, this is all about combining and recombining ideas into new shapes until a truly novel idea does surprise us. Surprise, I suppose, is that thing we’re lusting after. Screaming Females do not get me because I’m not surprised by them. I enjoy Castle Talk, but it’s academic. It’s a false consciousness. Buying into the ferocity as a way of tricking myself into being moved by its power. I’m kind of old now, though, and as it goes with elderly crybabies like myself, maybe teenagers who don’t remember the elder guard will find consonance with the group. Hell, I liked Green Day until I started listening to the Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks. But then, I had the good teenage elitist decency to bail on my former loves for being derivative. For being Normal Artists.

By Andrew Beckerman

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