A Brief, YouTube-Assisted Look At The Greatness Of Screaming Females


“Laura and Marty” (from Castle Talk, 2010)
Tomorrow’s 4Knots Music Festival Kickoff at South Street Seaport’s Pier 17 has as its opening act the New Brunswick trio Screaming Females, who pulled themselves up from the punk-house basement-show haze to the festival stages of Europe by the sheer force of frontwoman Marissa Paternoster’s guitar wail. She’s been compared to Hendrix, and that’s a fair assessment, for the joy she seems to take in getting you to rethink the electric guitar itself as a medium. Really, though, with the way she moves up and down the fretboard, squeezing every last ounce of juice out of each possible note with something that seems like reckless abandon at first blush but is really closer to clinical precision, she’s closer to a punk-rock John Coltrane.

“Bell” (from Power Move, 2009)

This music, riff-based with Paternoster’s shit-hot, no-shit guitar solos, Jarrett Dougherty’s martial but melodic drums, and King Mike’s deceptively simple bass vamps that slowly bore deep holes into your skull, is something of an overdriven Dad Rock. It hits all the same rock candy sweet spots, but flanges at the edges in a show of unwieldy, glorious fuzz.

“Holy Hell” (from Noun’s Holy Hell, 2010

(And like the ’70s radio classics that informed them, there’s even the side project that is largely indistinguishable from the actual band, yet in no way less essential.)

“New Kid” (from Castle Talk, 2010)

You’ll say, well yeah, isn’t that what the “grunge bands” did? And sure it is, except Screaming Females have managed not to immediately lose the script and start taking themselves way too seriously (apologies to Mudhoney, who—no matter the Official History on their Reprise albums—have never stopped being awesome). They’re still in it for the fun of it.

“Mothership” (from What If Someone Is Watching Their T.V.?, 2007)

What’s more, they can just as easily switch gears into a streamlined Sister/Daydream Nation elegy, delicate picking from Paternoster until it explodes into falling scraps of metal carried along by the implication of bounding handclaps.

“Boss” (from Castle Talk, 2010)

Or, they can tug at your heartstrings with a track about the ambiguity of the power dynamics in a relationship, the music aching then slashing like prime Pavement without all the smarmy ironic detachment.

“Boyfriend” (from What If Someone Is Watching Their T.V.?, 2007)

Marissa Paternoster, aside from the gunslinging, can emote without it being hacky, schmaltzy, or cynical. When she does scream, it’s not a parlor trick, or a crutch. It’s an opening up, a necessary break from the button-down flannel world of dour, whispering indie rock and the bros who make it.

The 4Knots Music Festival Kickoff show, with Ted Leo and Screaming Females, takes place on Saturday at 6 p.m. at the South Street Seaport’s Pier 17.