You would never listen to the Screaming Females if you required calm — if you wanted to be reassured that the world is stable and the ground is level. But their fifth album, Ugly, manages to blend their signature eeriness with catchy, genre-spanning melodies to evoke something both deeply unnerving and intensely satisfying.
In the opener, “It All Means Nothing,” frontwoman Marissa Paternoster immediately grabs your attention with her inimitable vibrato—which comes not only from her voice, but her dueling guitar. And though it is, indeed, Paternoster’s voice and masterfully intricate guitar work that remain the main marvel, Ugly is a multi-dimensional punk endeavor. “Expire” introduces easy surf rock riffs while Paternoster warbles creepy lyrics like, “If no one’s listening then I’d like/ to pull apart the core of you/ and squeeze myself back in,” while “Tell Me No” features a bongo-like drumbeat and guitar parts that sound vaguely Middle Eastern. And while Ugly contains some of the most foreboding tracks of their oeuvre (the bassline on “Doom 84” coupled with the lyrics, “Life was built to bore you/ If you can’t plant the seed/ I flip the open casket on its side” is instantly chilling), it also has some of the punkiest.
“Rotten Apple” and “Help Me” turn the Screaming Females into something they heretofore were not: shower music. Dressing music. Let’s Get Pumped For The Day music. And without a hint of cheesiness. Altogether, this makes Ugly not really “ugly,” but more“grotesque”: beautiful in its ugliness.
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