Maybe the most impressive thing about Screaming Females – besides leading lady Marissa Paternoster’s well-documented shredding chops – is the consistency of the group’s output. Since lunging out of New Brunswick, New Jersey’s sweaty-basement party scene in 2006, the trio has released five full-length studio albums, not a clunker among them. On Chalk Tape, their second studio EP, the Females continue to solidify their reputation for delivering wickedly efficient DIY rock.
It probably helps that they don’t tinker much with their formula. Guttural screams? Check. Gritty-yet-melodic guitar solos? Check. Sneaky-good hooks? Check. But there are still some surprises on Chalk Tape, which was written and recorded off the heels of 2012’s critically-lauded Ugly. “Bad Men” has Paternoster strumming an acoustic guitar and showing her emotional range as she harmonizes in a vulnerable vibrato and turns in one of her most impressive vocal performances to date. “Into the Sun” is driven by a bongo beat that pushes towards a trance-inducing psychedelic chant. On the more uptempo “Green Vapors,” which features a franticly thumping bass line, Paternoster shares the mic with Don Giovanni labelmate John Driver of Shellshag. The male/female vocals are a nice touch, and the tune boasts Chalk Tape’s most instantly gratifying chorus.
But the hypnotic “Poison Arrow,” which doesn’t venture far from the Females’ garage-rock sweet spot, is the clear standout here. The song pits an echoing Middle Eastern guitar melody against a hypnotic chorus, and features stellar rhythm work from bassist King Mike and drummer Jarrett Dougherty. Only “Wrecking Ball,” which skimps on melody and nuance in favor of a glottal vocal thrashing from Paternoster, misses the mark.
For anyone listening to Screaming Females for the first time, the shrill and undeniable force of Paternoster’s voice will likely take center stage. But if you stick around long enough to let the hooks sink in, you’ll discover how well this largely overlooked but consistently reliable threesome can craft a rock tune.