Screaming Females – Ugly


Band: Screaming Females
Album: Ugly
Label: Don Giovanni Records
Rating: 7.1

When Steve Albini produces an album, the chosen band and its label will be sure that everyone knows it, for two primary reasons: the guy records music beautifully, and when he allows a smaller band to make use of his skills for a reduced rate, some sort of approval is implied. Reaching the standard of a guy that recently scolded Sonic Youth for hurting the independent music scene has got to mean something.

In the case of Screaming Females, whose fifth album Ugly has been knob-twiddled by Albini, we’re presented with a punk band that does it right: abrasive, unadorned, harsh rock that is isn’t retro or precisely post-anything. Singer / guitarist Marissa Paternoster’s vibrato-heavy pterodactyl caw of a voice is an acquired taste that I’ll never quite acquire, but the tightness of the songwriting here is undeniable, even in longer songs such as the 8 minute “Doom 84.” There’s still something of the grimy New Jersey basements that spawned this music on these tapes, in the rippling distortion and the lazy heaviness of the guitar playing.

While Screaming Females lack the technique of Melt-Banana, that Japanese band’s frantic approach can be heard in the short “Something Ugly,” in the mesh between the sharp vocal attack and the Devo-ish jerkiness of the guitar lines.

Gentle album closer “It’s Nice” is a commendable reach toward diversity, with its string background and melodic vocals, but it doesn’t quite work as anything other than a strange trail-off to the solid rock that preceded it. It does suggest that there’s more to Paternoster’s voice than a quavering wail, though, and that might be an avenue she may wish to follow on future recordings. Even Albini can’t do anything about an annoying vocal style.

-Nathan Ripley

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