3.5 stars (out of 4)
On its fifth album, "Ugly" (Don Giovanni Records), New Jersey trio Screaming Females plays with more ferocity and confidence then ever. Marissa Paternoster's wicked-siren voice mashes and contorts syllables, throwing in enough vibrato to suggest a wobbly tire on a speeding escape car. Her guitar playing is just as audacious, riding like a daredevil atop the mighty waves thrown up by bassist King Mike and drummer Jarrett Dougherty. She turns repetition into high-speed addiction on "5 High," and comes flying out of the turns in "It All Means Nothing" as if testing the song's limits, and her own.
The trio's songs have tightened up, with big, if somewhat disconcerting choruses raining down like nails. "I'm a rotten apple," Paternoster shouts with pride and disdain, and punctuates "Slow Birth" with harrowing screams. But they're also stretching their muscles. The seven-minute "Doom 84" gives Paternoster plenty of room to roam and the quiet-loud dynamics turn it into a devastating showcase for one of indie-rock's nastiest shredders. And the closing "It's Nice" couches Paternoster's voice in acoustic guitar and strings – but if anything her conviction only comes through more passionately and poignantly than ever.