Screaming Females return next week with “All at Once,” their seventh studio LP for Don Giovanni Records, and a celebratory three-night stand at Jersey City’s Monty Hall.
New Brunswick’s Screaming Females are the only band I’ve ever heard whose albums continually top the predecessor, which is no easy feat for the forthcoming All at Once, because 2015’s Rose Mountain was brilliant.
Even more challenging, the Feb. 23 release on Don Giovanni Records consists of 15 songs that translate into a double album on vinyl. While the lengthy sequence of surreal snippets and sprawling guitar epics takes some getting used to compared to the bullet to the brain and heart fired from Rose Mountain, the Screamales once again have succeeded in maintaining an unprecedented artistic trajectory with their seventh studio LP since 2006.
While Rose Mountain often dug for precious metal, All at Once mines a surprising amount of classic rock, including Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, AC/DC and Patti Smith. The imaginatively expansive outing also boasts one of their best and prettiest songs ever, “Bird in Space,” a poetic tribute to modernist Romanian sculptor Constantin Brâncuși. Among the many impressive and enjoyable nuances on All at Once are Paternoster’s poppy coo beneath the ringing ‘70s-inspired guitar solo in the break of the standout track.
I also absolutely love the ‘60s-style psych-pop of “Chamber for Sleep Pt. 1.” With a tinny organ and trippy layers of vocals, “Chamber” just might convert early Pink Floyd enthusiasts into Screaming Females fans, especially the closing complement of stormy guitar wash and whimsical, chiming keys that segue directly into “Pt. 2.” The suicidal prog-rock take on an isolated Nirvana groove contains one of the LP’s strongest lyrics: “How do you hang this heaven over me, nail me to the bed.”
Other tracks are:
• The opening “Glass House,” a staccato, metal-tinged exercise in insanity or at least the trappings of one’s own mind.
• “Black Moon,” one of those Screamales tracks where Mike Abbate is more of a rhythm guitarist as he lays down thick, steamy bass grooves alongside Paternoster’s meaty guitar.
• “I’ll Make You Sorry,” a creepy stab of vengeance with deliciously dichotomous pop overtones propelled by a thick cascade of rhythms that make for a roller coaster of emotions.
• “Dirt,” a quirky, off-kilter interlude about self-medication, lies and, of course, dirt with lovely little cymbal flourishes by Jarrett Dougherty, the Charlie Watts of indie rock.
• “Agnes Martin,” which features Sabbath-like rhythms and vintage organ accompanying the album’s strongest lyrics about the schizophrenic abstract expressionist, another fellow visual artist who serves as Paternoster’s muse (“Without these gods and heroes whose words will hold you hostage. His canvas choked with words drop of ink to douse a desert fire. It brought us back to page. I see myself in bondage, outside a house in flames. I’m blessed born into a desert fire …”).
• “Deeply,” an Edgar Allan Poe of a tune made eerier by a distorted organ that sounds like it should be in the parlor of the House of Usher and a plucky second keyboard that makes the quasi title track — “All at once, you’re so mean” — even more interesting and entertaining, as does a video that teases to and flirts with the diversely talented Paternoster’s surreal art, which once again is depicted in the album’s packaging.
• “Soft Domination,” featuring a haunting, wailing, understated guitar echo that sounds like Moaning Myrtle in the bathroom at Hogwarts, while Paternoster again references the album’s title: “And l need you to know me so no one else owns me. My instincts are extinct … And all at once, no revolution a ghost inside and no one’s safe. Soft domination hold me. Rule me captive, drain me empty …”
• “End of My Bloodline,” a fascinating look at family matters somewhat reminiscent of Patti Smith in its brutally honest poetic angst.
• “Fantasy Lens,” high-octane squawk ‘n’ crunch that set aggression and philosophy to math-rock rhythms.
• “My Body,” another look at the art world set to an unlikely AC/DC-like hard-rock rhythm that delves into Paternoster’s other muse with more of the album’s strongest lyrics, which examine the depression and anxiety of a painter who also models (“You draw me in disguise and paint me paralyzed it’s true. You trace me as you see the darkest color deepest blue … When they come to find me then please burn my body. A broad stroke extinguishes this fire. Paint me screaming into the sprawl. I tried to draw you too, but in bad taste and with poor choice. And I can’t paint like you do, tragic precision, perfect void …”).
• “Drop by Drop,” another interlude that examines aging in a drunken state.
• The closing “Step Outside,” which segues from a muscular guitar intro into punk pop-art with an infunktious Abbate bass solo and fascinating layers of Paternoster vocals to an abrupt end.
While Rose Mountain dealt with pain involved in Paternoster’s career-stalling battle with mononucleosis, All at Once seems to be about existing in one’s own skin either via someone making you feel better about that or by getting comfortable with discomfort. Both variations are explored, such as in “Soft Domination” (“Tell me you’ll lift me up. Tell me you’ll take me out of this place …”) and “Fantasy Lens” (“Should I lay with my head bowed down exist in exits. But where, where can I exist. Where can I let the ghost in …”). Themes of faith, family, fragility, futility and freedom also are expressed in a haunting and often unsettling way, sometimes tamed by crafty song structure but often designed to rage like the demons that inspired them.
I look forward to hearing these tracks live during Screaming Females’ celebratory three-night stand Feb. 22-24 at Jersey City’s Monty Hall, where opening acts will include Teenage Halloween, Snakeskin and Spowder. The industrious trio then will tour the country and Europe through May with other area dates on April 5 at Union Transfer in Philadelphia and April 6 at Market Hotel in Brooklyn, both with Thou and Hirs.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at email@example.com. And like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.
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