Screaming Females’ ‘All At Once’ Is Sprawling, Satisfying and Precise (Album Review)

 

By their seventh album, most bands are winding down into a comfort zone that will largely appeal to the core base of fans they developed earlier on in their career. Screaming Females buck this trend with their latest LP, All At Once, by deftly forging their most striking identity yet. All At Once is simultaneously one of their most satisfying and precise albums yet, while also being their most sprawling to date.

The record kicks off with the most potent one-two punches of the band’s career. It would not be an overestimation to call opener “Glass House” one of the crowning achievements of Screaming Females’ existence. The song winds through one of front woman Marissa Paternoster’s most compelling vocal performances, while darkly twisting the knife of the boiling intensity bubbling beneath her soaring notes. As an album opener, the way the track grows in ferocity makes an incredible case to stick around all the way through. Second track “Black Moon” ups the ante with one of the band’s greatest choruses yet, flexing their pop abilities.

Then the album largely carries from there, towing the delicate line between full on indie pop rock and their punk roots. Screaming Females sound like a band falling just short of arena status, but still too big for any venue they play in, which seems to largely be the goal. They stay just garage enough to avoid the pitfalls of modern pop, but make no mistake that All At Once is the straightest dose of “catchy” punk rock they’ve ever made. By honing this craft, Screaming Females also come the closest yet to hitting the mark they’ve been aiming at all along.

All At Once then is a showcase of everything Screaming Females do best. “Deeply” is one of the most solid “ballad” type songs that the band has explored, catching a whiff of a Yeah Yeah Yeahs vibe, while “Bird in Space” explores an alternative, softer side that is more indebted to classic rock. Something about the melody and the interplay of the instruments make it sound like a song the Rolling Stones could have played around with in the 70’s. Paternoster then stretches her legs with her bonafide guitar shredder status, ripping off a couple uplifting solos that wouldn’t sound out of place on a good Guns n’ Roses slow burner.

If there is one knock on the record, it lives up to its title. In the course of Screaming Females’ career, they’ve avoided making long records, true to their punk influences. With a considerable increase in the scope of their abilities, Screaming Females throw everything at the wall, fittingly, all at once. “Chamber for Sleep” is a two part track which doesn’t particularly justify the length of two sections, while further album tracks like “Drop by Drop,” with a running time of one minute and ten seconds, could have been relegated to B-side status for a more concise attack.

Less is often more, but in this case Screaming Females clearly decided to let it all out. That leads to a slight drag towards the end of the record, with some unnecessary baggage, and makes the record a bit top-heavy. Such a startlingly accurate opening makes one want to return to the opening of the record again and again. Whether one makes it to the ending jam, “Step Outside,” every time is questionable, which is a shame as “Step Outside” functions as a superb closer and throwback to Screaming Females’ earlier, younger style.

Despite the flaws of overloading, All At Once is the overall strongest record Screaming Females have released in almost a decade, since 2009’s fantastic Power Move. After years of seemingly struggling to hit upon exactly what they wanted out of their music, Screaming Females have found a clear definition of themselves and wield it with precision and authority.

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