Monday, 27 September 2010

Screaming Females - Castle Talk (Don Giovanni Records)

I take issue with the way that the majority of Screaming Females' reviewers seem to think that front-woman Marissa Paternoster's possession of a vagina is somehow at odds with her proficiency at guitar playing. If not, they seem desperate to point out the way in which her diminutive frame belies her powerful singing voice. Let me put the matter to rest and assure the reader that this reviewer will judge Castle Talk for its merits (which are numerous) regardless of the sex or size of its creators. I doubt any reviews of Purple Rain began: “It's pretty good for a short guy”.

Let's not get carried away, though. Castle Talk is hardly Screaming Females' Purple Rain, although it does contain some of their most accessible songs to date, and may well go on to be the most commercially successful release of their five-year career. Paternoster's famous shrieking – which has become something of a spectacle at their live performances, and which lent earlier tracks like Boyfriend an arresting rawness – is absent here, revealing instead a distinctive and melodic vocal style. This combined with the presence of a diverse range of influences makes for a rather catchy pop record. When the bass line emerges from the drone of reverb at the start of album opener Laura And Marty the band manages to evoke both Fugazi and The Breeders. However, the band goes on to prove that this grungy nineties punk sound in no way defines them, when in tracks like Normal, A New Kid, and Ghost Solo, the driving, heavy riffs and sporadic soloing bring to mind the guitar sounds of artists like Dinosaur Jr. – even at times The Smashing Pumpkins; and at others, Josh Homme. Of course, all these artists I've just mentioned wouldn't fall too far from each other in an imaginary venn diagram of musical genres. Similarly, such pastiche invites criticism for being too derivative. But while Screaming Females do not succeed at being the most experimental of bands, something tells me that this was never their game plan in the first place.

Castle Talk is an album that strives to record a sense of authenticity, and to that end, it excels. From the aching lament of Boss, to the effortless insolence of Sheep, via the pervading sense of East Coast ennui that saturates the entire record, you get the feeling that Castle Talk has captured some of the sincerity and excitement of a Screaming Females live show. This in itself is the album's accomplishment.

Words : Tegan Rogers

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