Marissa Paternoster’s voice isn’t for everyone. If you haven’t already figured it out over Screaming Females’ now five-album discography, the wailing singer’s howl for some is startlingly different and for others touches on unlistenable. This voice gives the band’s name—which has the potential to be fitting for many female-fronted punk-rooted bands—a new, direct meaning. The name “Screaming Females” is not as much a band name as an upfront statement for first-time listeners that might read “Warning: This album contains off-kilter vocals, gnarly guitars and layered tracks of one screaming female.”
But I am a fan of this voice. And it shines more than ever on Screaming Females’ latest album, the Steve Albini-produced Ugly. The release finds the New Jersey trio, which also features Jarrett Dougherty on drums and King Mike on bass, exploring not only space-filling arrangements that are impressive for the lean band, but also hard-hitting and catchy tracks.
For as much flack as Paternoster gets from some for her vocals, she should be equally applauded for her meaty, ground-covering guitar playing. On a local level, she’s already well appreciated in that respect, with a Shredder of the Year award coming from The Village Voice in 2009. The album’s opening three tracks—“It All Means Nothing,” “Rotten Apple” and “Extinction”—highlight Paternoster’s ability to multitask between grabbing the listener with vocal melodies and keeping them with fun and frequent guitar fills—imagine a Siamese Dream-era Billy Corgan that just found out he was limited to one guitar track per song.
The tracks, while upbeat and hook-soaked, are appropriately dark for an album titled Ugly. With tracks titled “Rotten Apple,” “Something Ugly” and “Tell Me No,” the album features lines of self-analyzation and doubt from which anyone in their early twenties will be able to pick out their own personal, relatable line.
Compared with a lot of releases this year, the album runs long at almost an hour, with 14 tracks that include the near-eight minute “Doom 84.” But this is also a case for the power of sequencing; With the album’s quick pace, I wouldn’t have guessed after repeat listens that it was much longer than half of its run time. And that’s refreshing.