(Don Giovanni, released Feb. 24th, 2015)
Reviewed by Rob Bockman
In their close-to-a-decade career, Screaming Females have always had a propulsive pop-adjacent sound to them (c.f. “Expire”) that provides a melodic undercurrent to their brand of throaty rock; in Rose Mountain, they embrace 4/4 regularity and generous harmony with aplomb. Suitably, as implied by the album’s title, the results are both flowery as a garden and solid as all hell.
Produced by Matt Bayles (Mastodon’s Blood Mountain, Caspian’s Waking Season), Rose Mountain—Screaming Females’ sixth release—comes offering lightning in one hand and quicksilver in the other: completely different effects, but both’ll kill you dead. Bayles’ influence comes through in tracks like the scuffed “Ripe,” whose oily scruffiness counterpoints sharp lyrics like “You are a dark machine and I’m a cult/When engines crack & fuel lines break off/I’ll save your bits and let your motor rot.” Marissa Paternoster’s rich and hollow roar nails down the borders of her songs and prevents a straightforward and surprisingly poppy track like “Wishing Well” from losing its edge, especially once the effortlessly loose solo cuts in, propped up by Jarrett Dougherty’s percussion. The eponymous track adds a jazzy strut and an unwinding piano outro to the group’s power swings, adding a ramshackle variety to its tight four minutes, and serving in a way as the album’s thesis: Here are some disparate elements, hope they make sense. And for the most part, it all does make sense, even if it takes a few listens. For example, standout “Hopeless” starts off as an honest-to-god ballad—standard-issue “hopeless/helpless” megacliché and all—but its trophic simplicity elevates it to something that could be a reinterpretation project for artists to come. In opposition, a straightforward tune like “Burning Car,” which should be straight in Screaming Female’s wheelhouse, falls flat. That’s the crux of Rose Mountain—a kind of creativity that’s more experimentation than evolution, as though Paternoster and crew are walking you through a tasting menu—“Not to your taste? No worries, here’s something else.” Throughout, King Mike’s bass looms large, while Paternoster’s trademark yelp is modulated to a husky croon without sounding dulled; in short, this is Screaming Females as a push-pull outfit, as tonally diverse and polished as the band is likely to get, at least for the moment. For that, more than anything, it’s well-worth visiting Rose Mountain.
Top Trax: “Wishing Well,” “Broken Neck,” “Hopeless,” “Rose Mountain”
To Avoid: “Triumph,” “Burning Car,” “It’s Not Fair”
Setting: That one dull but jittery hour on a 5+ hour roadtrip when you think your heart will burst if you have one more cup of coffee