Marissa Paternoster sings about mostly pedestrian things. On Castle Talk, the fourth album by her band, Screaming Females, her version of romance is holding hands, counting hours, falling asleep. She fears rejection on the basis of being “joyfully employed and normal.” “I don’t really want to die,” she sings on “I Don’t Mind It,” and it’s the “really” that’s the kicker, like there’s only a shrug separating life from death. This is what you’d call suburban malaise. Yet, everything else about Paternoster’s music directly counters her low-stakes lyrics. She possesses one of the most dramatic singing voices to come along in years, which swoops and bellows like Corin Tucker if she had roots twenty feet underground. She plays the guitar like a maniac, with serious chops and an ear for riffs that recall indie heroes like J Mascis or Doug Martsch. And her work ethic is off the charts—Screaming Females has released 4 albums and played more than 500 shows in five years, and Paternoster’s solo debut (Holy Hell, under the moniker Noun) preceded Castle Talk by only a couple of months. Alongside Paternoster’s pipes and guitar shredding, the contributions to Castle Talk by drummer Jarrett Dougherty and bassist King Mike are comparably workmanlike, but that’s actually part of Screaming Females’ charm. They have elements common to any low-rent, high school punk band—Guttermouth bass licks and a cheap drum set—but the band uses them to punch well above its weight class. So there’s a polarity between the band’s subject-matter and its ambition; between the quality of its sound and the quality of its songs.
In fact, Castle Talk sounds better played over iPhone speakers than on, say, Beats By Dre headphones—which makes sense, because Screaming Females apply massive talent to relatively quotidian music. The joy here isn’t necessarily in innovation, but in craft—the propulsive thrumming of “Boss,” the absolute nailing of a guitar solo, the interplay between Marissa’s voice and guitar. They’re making music to root for—Battle of the Bands music that effectively has a shot at the majors—which is a rare quality these days. Paternoster’s lyrics feel like adjuncts to private school teenage years in suburban Jersey. Check the last year of Screaming Females’ blog and it reveals the band to be exactly what the music implies they are: Yo-yo enthusiasts who geek out when someone YouTubes one of their songs to a skate video. This year, in quick succession, the band played “Fucking Awesome Fest” in Detroit, “Fuck Yeah Fest” in LA, and “Awesome Fest” in San Diego. Most of their 500 shows have been house parties, in order to score the under-21 crowds, and they tour in unreliable vans. Between that, the suburban malaise, and the thrilling DIY musicianship—face it—Screaming Females is the closest thing we’ve got to The Minutemen. Their band could be your life.
-Marty Brown, 2010