Screaming Females: Castle Talk Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Castle Talk by the Screaming Females.
Dana Raidt (Radio K’s Girl Germs)
When Screaming Females’ Power Move came out in 2009, I was not impressed. In fact, I was really turned off by it. It seemed too something: basement-y, bar band-y…Jersey-y? It gave me what I (affectionately) call “the Springsteen shudders,” visions of sweaty, shirtless guys pumping a fist in the air with the other hand either cradling a plastic cup of Budweiser or wrapped around a bikini-topped woman’s waist.
With that said, singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster’s debut solo release under the Noun moniker, Holy Hell (which we’ve played on Girl Germs) is—without exaggeration—absolutely fantastic. As much as the members of Screaming Females would probably beg to differ, Paternoster is the band’s not-so-secret weapon. After hearing Holy Hell’s stellar songwriting and witnessing her, ahem, shredding, in person, I was hopeful about Castle Talk, the band’s fourth release. And Castle Talk, bless its heart, did not disappoint.
The Screaming Females story seems straightforward enough: Pick up a guitar, find a couple of likeminded friends, form a rock band and play some basement shows in your Jersey town. The album does have its share of no-frills moments that seem to be born of that simple formula. But listen closely to songs like “Fall Asleep,” “A New Kid” and “Laura & Marty” (and—seriously, listen to Holy Hell) and you’ll find songs that aren’t just basement-show good; they’re good good.
Zack McCormick (Radio K’s Culture Queue)
Screaming Females have the kind of bratty charm and basement-scene credentials that make them especially endearing to those of us living on the border line between Punk and Indie. Their blasting guitar riffs and alternately sweet and infectious hooks make them an excellent tool for opening horn-rim covered eyes and the minds of shaved heads alike. Castle Talk is a great little record, in no small part thanks to the band’s strong playing and a canny ability to know when to throw their listeners a curve ball. The Screaming Females have a great power-trio dynamic: guitarist and singer Marissa Paternoster rips out the riffs and has a voice that can run the gamut from a sneering growl to a chanteuse’s croon, while King Mike weaves agile melodic basslines that border on virtuosity. The record feels pleasantly organic in its lo-fi production style, the ‘Females sound like they’re having a blast in the studio and their confidence shines through on the songs. “I Don’t Mind It” is a Buzzcoxian little slice of pop-punk that showcases the band’s knack for catchy choruses and engaging instrumentation. Paternoster kicks some asses and melts some faces on the incisive “Normal” (she spits the title like it’s a dirty word) but also shows she can do pretty on the warped pop of “Deluxe”. Other standouts include the funky post-punk jam “Fall Asleep” where King Mike’s popping octaves make the track downright danceable, and garage stomper “Nothing at All”. The perfect fall record for indie rockers with a few Social D skeletons left in their closets.
I am generally a fan of scuzzy female fronted rock and roll, but for some reason the new album Castle Talk by the Screaming Females just doesn’t do it for me. I remember hearing a while back about this group and thinking that they should be right up my alley, but I couldn’t help but having a itchy finger wanting to hit skip on my visits to the 11 song, 36 minute album. When front women Marissa Paternoster sings “it’s easy and generic,” on the track “I Don’t Mind It,” I couldn’t help but think that the statement mirrors my thoughts on the album. Paternoster’s vocals are fine, but the riffs (especially the cheesy solos littered throughout the album) sound like they were written to pump up a crowd at a timeout of a sporting event. There are a few of the tracks I enjoyed (namely the angular fuzz out rock of “Wild”), but for the most part the album made me realize it takes more than guitars soaked in fuzz and solid female vocals to make an album that I really like.
Melissa Paternoster is a great guitarist. She is talented to the point that it has almost become a problem in her music. In fact my least favorite thing about the new Screaming Females record Castle Talk is that Paternoster seems to have crammed two albums worth of eye-rolling guitar solos into it – enough that occasionally the songs start to seem like vehicles whose’ sole purpose is to give Paternoster a stage to jam on. Still, to the band’s credit the overall sound is still good.
Jamming notwithstanding, Paternoster’s consistent fingerplay and Grace Slick evoking vocals sound as inspired as ever, with bassist King Mike’s throbbing bass lending everything a early – mid nineties bombast. When the band comes together they would fit comfortably between Dinosaur Jr. and Babes in Toyland’s sets at the ’93 Lollapalooza (or Sleater Kinney, had they been there). The best parts of Screaming Females come out strong in the record’s first five tracks, notably “I Don’t Mind It,” and “Normal,” both of which minimalize the guitar shredding to a tasteful level. Quite a bit of Castle Talk’s back half suffers though, especially when the Females try to morph into something more Van Halen oriented. Still, with just a tiny bit of restraint this could have been a really fantastic record. As it is it is just pretty good.
Castle Talk will be available on September 14th on Don Giovanni Records
Screaming Females: Myspace