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Album Review

by Screaming Females

Don Giovanni Records

Review Date
24th August 2012
Reviewed by
Michael Harvey

There is an inevitability regarding some kind of second coming of grunge, given how popular culture seems to move in twenty year cycles. Nirvana were ruling the world twenty years ago, so it makes sense that bands weaned on that influence come of age with music that treads the boards of being familiar in a good way and merely biting the steeze of great bands of yesteryear. On their fifth full-length Ugly, Screaming Females hew somewhat toward the former, by being a kick-ass band, though the overt 90's signifiers (hey, Steve Albini recorded this!) move them toward the latter. That's right, the New Jersey punk rockers find themselves in that murky not-quite punk/not-quite-metal limbo that characterised the output of countless Seattle bands, and the way the solid riffage and piercing leads meld with guitarist/vocalist Marissa Paternoster's fearsome yowls springs to mind some kind of bastard kin of L7 and Dinosaur Jr.

It's not an abrasive art-punk masterpiece to be sure, but sometimes you just wanna headbang, and Screaming Females provide riffs for days. Pasternoster's vocals occasionally recall those of Corin Tucker from Sleater-Kinney - although she is way, way more pissed off than Tucker ever managed to sound on any S-K record. And let's not understate just how furious the guitar work is here; blistering lead breaks and fills run the gamut from melodic to dissonant and back again all in the course of a single song. "It All Means Nothing" opens the album and its the strongest cut here, carried by a great riff and Pasternoster's no-holds-barred lyrics. Elsewhere, the post-punk strut of "Red Hand" brings a weirdly more modern sound into the mix. I say weirdly because punk-funk is of a similar vintage to the grunge these guys clearly worship. However, the band are often content to leave Pasternoster to carry things forward, such as in "Leave It All Up To Me", which loses some of it's momentum after the bridge. "Doom 84" stretches it's 7-minute length to it's maximum effect, offering a more spacious place for Pasternoster to unleash some rage. However, the string-laden schmaltz of "It's Nice" ends the record on a terribly affected acoustic note, almost threatening to totally undo the flow of the album with it's leaden verses. Note to bands doing balls-to-the-wall rock who want to show off how progressive they are: don't do ballads! 

Ugly has enough energy burning throughout to indicate that Screaming Females would put on a great, mosh-friendly live show. All the right boxes are ticked as far as the playing, and Albini's engineering is excellent as usual, giving all the instruments room to breathe. However, while there are enough brilliant moments in the guitar department and a few great songs here, the album runs about three or four tracks too long, which ultimately dilutes some of the impact. "Leave the crowd wanting more" is a cliche because of it's truth, and Screaming Females give just a little too much. 


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