Release Date: Apr 03, 12
If there was a major contention to be had with New Jersey three-piece Screaming Females’ previous records, it’s that frontwoman Marissa Paternoster’s brassy howl was sometimes lost amidst the buzzing, snarling production. On Ugly, their fifth full-length, Paternoster is front and center, appropriate for one of the most exciting mouthpieces in punk rock at present. Though songs like “5 High” won’t do a whole lot to deter the Karen O comparisons, some of her most interesting moments come on other tracks like “Red Hand,” in which she moves from a frenzied yelp to a deep, resonant tremble in rapid succession.
That’s not to say she’s the only highlight of what’s overall one of the year’s finest rock records so far. From the brooding groove of “Doom 84” (at almost eight minutes) to the rattled velocity of “Tell Me No” and “Rotten Apple,” Ugly conducts itself with an immediacy that makes its occasional redundancy completely irrelevant. Though smoother produced than some of their prior work, Ugly makes the most of its perpetually ringing cymbals and trembling guitars, creating a kind of cacophony that feels somehow intimate despite itself. This is particularly evident on “It All Means Nothing,” which has a summery, relaxed feel despite the thicker-than-hell riffs.
Most surprising, perhaps, is how wonderful Screaming Females sound when they tone themselves down. On album closer “It’s Nice,” a gentle, lilting acoustic melody foregrounds Paternoster’s vocals while showing a surprising deal of optimism and even bliss, given so much of the scorched, sometimes caustic imagery of the album that preceded it. When she lets loose in the chorus, and a swell of violins and bombast join her, notice is duly served that Screaming Females refuse to simply be a fast, dirty New Brunswick band. Deceptively, and perhaps without even noticing, they’re becoming one of the most exciting rock acts currently making music.