At first listen, it’s easy to overlook that the thunderous sound of Screaming Females is made by not only a three-piece, but one with a female leader – not in a sexist way, of course, but because their music has bigger balls than most. The lady in question is Marissa Paternoster; a high-energy lightning rod with a voice in the range of Siouxsie Sioux or Jemina Pearl (with some Bessie Smith in there for good measure). Her awesome pipes are matched with a ’90s guitar sound that’s at times as dreamy as James Iha and others as off-the-wall as J Mascis.
Paternoster and her male counterparts, Jarrett Dougherty on drums and Michael Abbate on bass, carved their way through the rural New Jersey basement circuit releasing two DIY mini-albums, 2006’s, Baby Teeth followed by 2007’s, What If Someone Is Watching Their TV? (which has since been reissued). But, it wasn’t until they signed with local label Don Giovanni Records and released their first proper studio LP, Power Move, that the band finally gained some outside-New Jersey recognition. With their thrash-heavy hooks and high energy permeating from furious live performances, Paternoster, at times, seems to be channeling the late, Mia Zapata.
Castle Talk has the signature Paternoster guitar sound; the album’s opener, “Laura and Marty” begins with a few chords of pure distortion. But as the song plays out the listener is introduced to a cleaner and more mature sound, structurally. Paternoster’s impressive talents are to be expected after two excellent releases, though her playing and songwriting has taken a step forward. Instead of the howling choruses we’ve seen in earlier releases, she takes a more melodic singing approach this time around, as on “I Don’t Mind It” and the ultra hooky “Normal.”
The rest of the band have taken cues from Paternoster’s progression and equally stepped up their own games – Abbate’s rhythm section is repetitive and hooky, much attuned to that of Krist Noveselic, while Dougherty’s knack for timing is most noticeable in “Nothing At All.” “Sheep” is Paternoster going acoustic, which works – and is a pleasant change of pace before the building climax, “Ghost Solo,” in which Paternoster puts her guitar wisdom to the test, and for that matter, succeeds.
With their new sense of maturity and a cleaner sound, the album doesn’t detract from their DIY, garage rock roots. The album is sure to put the band back into the indie spotlight; with so much blog-talk surrounding Power Move, Castle Talk is the Females ‘make or break’ album. Based on the talent on hand, the levees should hold.
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