Screaming Females' Rose Mountain is out February 24 via Don Giovanni. It's currently streaming via NPR.
I’ve long thought of New Brunswick, New Jersey three-piece the Screaming Females as the most powerful, promising torchbearers of Dino Jr.’s heavy, fuzzed-up mantle. But with each new release, I'm reminded: that won't be their legacy. Even if those two neurons are linked forevermore, they sure don't file under "scruffy stoner rock" quite as neatly as they used to. Been there, done that, it's just another mode in their widening repertoire.
For 2012’s Steve Albini-recorded Ugly, the band dialed back their sandblasting guitars, fretboard workouts and max riffage a notch, polished up, and more directly embraced pop songwriting (though there have always been hooks in surplus). Shortly after its release, frontwoman Marissa Paternoster came down with chronic mononucleosis, an illness which has kept them mostly quiet since 2013.
But on their sixth and latest, Rose Mountain, they've surfaced miles down the road in that same direction — poppier, shinier, gigantic. Whereas, in my head, they used to file under Acolytes of J Mascis, openers "Empty Head" and "Ripe" owe more to riot grrrl, hair metal, and stadium rock than sludgy alternative. Makes sense since Matt Bayles (who's produced Mastodon and The Sword) pitched in. They're anything but quiet.
Conceptually, the change-up is a masterstroke: they're cribbing from genres home to anthemic exclamations of power and empowerment, but for the topic of chronic illness, something otherwise thought of as frail-making. Rose Mountain is basically an album-length "Won't Back Down" and, for once, it's an incredibly meaningful arena for that particularly arena rock sentiment.
Deep into the album, the theme is laid completely bare. “Hopeless” is the first ballad I’ve ever heard leave Paternoster’s lips, but the form is a subversion; sure, it's a breakup song, but it's aimed at her own body. And suddenly what's ostensibly hair metal has a whole new aura.