Dusted Reviews

Screaming Females - Ugly

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Screaming Females

Album: Ugly

Label: Don Giovanni

Review date: Apr. 2, 2012

Guitar shredders are at their best in power trios. It removes any doubt about where the center of gravity is in the band, and by giving the virtuoso a few tasks, it reins in the potential for excess. Marissa Paternoster holds the position of sole guitarist, screamer and female in Screaming Females, but it’s her playing that defines them. She can write a solid song, but her most inspired moments come down to the riff — like “Voodo Chile,” or “Sunshine of Your Love,” the attention is on the fingerwork, not the hook.

The band has walked a wavering line between the indie side and the lunkhead side of punk, as befits a college-town band where the scene is small and the living distracted. Ugly is Screaming Female’s Steve Albini record, an inevitability for a group like this, and the trio brings its “A” game to the project. It’s a long record, and I’ll be damned if I can find a track I’d declare filler. Paternoster brims with ideas, and more than ever she’s ingenious at bending scraps of rock history into her vision. Albini’s verite engineering plays up her eccentricities rather than evening them out; when she stomps into echo-effect mode, the sound is oddly attenuated, not distractingly so, but the sort of raw contrast that adds life to a record. Track to track, it’s impossible to predict where the band is going to go — the winds blow from jazzed-up exotic scales to Jesus Christ Posing grunge. There’s less indie here than in their previous work; even when the songs open space for a Corin Tucker-ish howl, Paternoster tends to get swept up by choogling buildups.

I can’t help but thinking there’s a glass ceiling for this band, and this album is probably where they hit it. It’s always been easy describe resemblances between Screaming Females and older iconic guitar bands, but Ugly brings to mind a group I hadn’t thought of before: Meat Puppets. It’s not that the Puppets’ sound is directly comparable, but a lot of the situation is. There’s the whacked-out cover art, untrendy hometown, impressive playing and opening slots. Plus, Screaming Females reveal a sudden dedication to boogie, a sound the Puppets also started mining mid-career. The Kirkwood brother’s classic rock moves never felt like commercial ambition. They were following the third eye. Pasternoster’s of the same mindset.

The biggest affinity is the voice. Paternoster and Curt Kirkwood are not appealing singers, though they both clearly enjoy singing. Appreciating all the other strengths of the music hinges on the listener’s willingness to go along with that enthusiasm. Even when every possible trend was favoring Meat Puppets, and a major studio triple-tracked Kirkwood’s voice into something that approached smoothness, the best they could wring out was a minor alt-hit, even as the band was writing its best material.

The thing with Paternoster’s voice is that it shares so many qualities with her guitar work. She likes to hold notes with a wiggly sustain. This can work both through the amp and through the mic, but it can also make for a thicket. Singing while playing doesn’t do much to dampen her frenzy at this point. She has a tendency to howl on exhales and go nasal on the inhales, and that can make her vocal lines jarring, even if the same tonal turnabouts are great as fretboard whiplash. The peak moments of Ugly are when she pushes her voice and playing in opposite directions. On “Tell Me No,” her sustained wailing sails over knuckle-ripping downstrokes. The opening “It All Means Nothing” reverses the formula — short vocal phrases play off of long scarred-up notes.

Not that this band really needs to change anything. Universal is nice, but ugly is more interesting.

By Ben Donnelly

Other Reviews of Screaming Females


Castle Talk

Read More

View all articles by Ben Donnelly

Find out more about Don Giovanni

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.