Album review: Screaming Females’ ‘Ugly’


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Screaming Females anchor Marissa Paternoster is fully aware that she sounds on edge, and she doesn’t appear interested in pulling back. “I don’t get high,” she declares on “5 High,” from the band’s new album ‘Ugly,’ and then follows that up with a bone-rattling declaration that sees her completely disregarding her vocal health. “I can’t unwind,” she frets, drawing out the phrase long enough to slice, growl and howl through registers high and low. It’s tense, but when tension is this arresting, who needs to calm down?

At 14 songs and 53 minutes, “Ugly” is a workout, and there’s nary a moment in which Paternoster doesn’t seem at risk of losing control to her guitar. She’s a shredder who values soloing as much as riffing, and bassist King Mike and drummer Jarrett Dougherty match her with a kind of fierce finesse. On this fifth album from the New Jersey trio and first recorded with underground hero Steve Albini, tracks unfurl like mini hard-rock suites. “It All Means Nothing” skids from reverb bluster to vulnerability, and “Leave it All Up to Me” is a tug-o-war between a militaristic stomp and high-pitched guitar mysticism.


Just when the band seems ready to completely let go, composure wins out. Paternoster is scared of dying alone on the desperately racing “Something Ugly,” yet she stands with arms-folded skepticism on “Doom 84.” “Show me what your genius can do,” Paternoster challenges, and then as if to taunt, she jolts between a towering riff and a hypnotically intricate melody. “Ugly,” ultimately, is about navigating the chaos of adulthood. When Paternoster sings of feeling like a child on album closer “It’s Nice,” her band responds with a lovely acoustic lullaby. Relaxing turns out to be the most shocking act of all.

Screaming Females
Don Giovanni Records
Three and a half stars (Out of four)


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