Screaming Females: Castle Talk
Back in the day, I'd hate to miss a good show (I'm still not happy that my parents wouldn't let me drive to Kalamazoo one Monday night to see Scratch Acid and Big Black play, ditto the time I couldn't get out to Lansing to see Cleveland's greatest-ever band, Death of Samantha). Nowadays, it's far less a big deal when a cool band comes through town and I can't make it, but after listening to the new record by Screaming Females, I'm pretty tore up about not checking out the band when they played Trunk Space recently.
I'm disappointed because, the way I look it at, S.F. singer/guitarist Marissa Pasternoster is one of the more compelling musicians I've listened to this year, a figure whose singing and playing both explode with personality.
Pasternoster can deliver throaty and ballsy vocals without sacrificing the ability to carry a melody. Her voice has the same detached, impenetrable tone of Grace Slick and Siouxsie Sioux, singers brimming with anger but who didn't use in-your-face aggression to get their point across. When Pasternoster sings lines like, "You can cheat with anyone, anyone will do," in song "Sheep," you know that she still has the upper hand in that relationship.
Matching her big-time howl is her monstrous guitar. Obviously inspired by the guitarists in acts like Dinosaur Jr., Black Sabbath, Sleater-Kinney, and Girlschool, Pasternoster is a could-be shredder who knows exactly when to bludgeon, with superfuzz-bigmuff-style riffs, and when to slice and dice, with searing, in-the-red licks. Then, on a dime, she'll switch off the distortion and use a minimal-sounding clean tone to accentuate her keen sense of dynamics and melody.
The drummer and bass player (both dudes, by the way) must be thanking their stars that they're backing a musician like Pasternoster, and the underproduced recording of their instruments indicates that it's their leader's show. My sense is that if the big time is where Pasternoster wants to go, she could do it with the right producer. For now, her musical vision seems more suited for a fringe audience, but seems to me, down the road, that anything can happen for Screaming Females, or at least for the band's force of a frontwoman.
Best song: "Boss."
Deja vu: Good music that comes from unexpected sources.
I'd rather listen to: Sleater-Kinney's The Woods.
"Nothing Not New" is a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 41-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.