When I began to listen to Screaming Female’s new album, Rose Mountain, I was surprised that there was no screaming at all. Lead singer Marissa Paternoster’s voice is loud and low and passionate, but the lyrics are completely clear. This is something I was grateful for as the album progressed, because their poignancy shined in each song.
The album opens with rhythmic classic-rock guitar and eerie lyrics in “Empty Head” — “Sit outside from this ring system, cover me in dust/ Where magic lies with a fool’s wisdom just below the cross/ I faction you to lay your soul on mystic death wars”— creating an eerie, witchy vibe. It draws comparison to girl-fronted ’90s bands like L7 or Garbage (with whom Screaming Females has collaborated), although Paternoster’s voice has a lower pitch than that of her predecessors. The instrumentals are heavier too, more like that of the average man-fronted alt-rock band. The pounding guitar and drums continue through track two, “Ripe,” which stands out for its compelling vocal harmonies, strong throughout the album.
With the next song, “Wishing Well,” the album softens. The minimized accompaniment showcases how lovely Paternoster’s voice is, as well as emphasizing the mesmerizing and clever chorus: “I toss dimes in the wishing well/ And I’m broke cause you took all of me/ My tombstone on a grassy hill/ It’s a matter of fact, all my change goes to hell.” The song shows Screaming Female’s masterful ability to crescendo a song from soft and minimal up to its standard punk style as the intensity increases.
“Rose Mountain,” the album’s title track, is a 4-minute epic with a lengthy instrumental intro and outro. One of the more experimental tracks on the album, it highlights the skills of the two other band members, drummer Jarrett Dougherty and bassist King Mike. The song is tender with a catchy bassline and the same eeriness of “Empty Head,” and shows how tight the band is. Both “Rose Mountain” and the following track, “Hopeless,” stand out because they have a different sound from most of the other songs on the album. I appreciated this difference, especially since the only flaw I found on the album was that a lot of the songs sounded similar.
“Hopeless” might have been my favorite track on the album, ballad-like and broken-hearted, about the desire to stay friends with someone one has broken up with. Of all the songs on the album, I could imagine this one and “Burning Car” catching on in the mainstream because of their more traditional/less-punk structures and relatable lyrics. Meanwhile, the last two songs return to the punk, guitar-heavy style for which the band is known.
Screaming Female’s sound has become increasingly polished over time — even rawer rock can be found in their earlier releases, reaching back to 2006’s Baby Teeth. Combining the harmonies of Veruca Salt and the wailing vocals of No Doubt, it is reminiscent of many girl-fronted punk and alt-rock bands.