PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Screaming Females: Castle Talk

The New Jersey-based punk rockers deliver their fourth and most accessible record yet.

Screaming Females

Castle Talk

Label: Don Giovanni
US Release Date: 2010-09-14
UK Release Date: 2010-09-27

It's really a shame that a Screaming Females record can't replicate the experience of seeing them live. Not for the usual reasons -- live music is more immediate, powerful, what have you -- but because frontwoman, singer, and guitarist Marissa Paternoster is barely five-feet tall, and watching her produce the unearthly howls and scorching riffs and solos that propel so much of Screaming Females' material is a unique experience. Something about it seems a little off, and it provides a perfect visual complement to the band's fractured, classic rock inspired take on punk.

That being said, Castle Talk, their fourth and latest album, hardly suffers in an audio-only format. It pulls off the significant accomplishment of smoothing out a few of their eccentricities and presenting Screaming Females in a slightly glossier, more palatable setting, without compromising their personality or idiosyncrasies.

Chief among these idiosyncrasies is Paternoster's voice. Strident, powerful, and with the tendency to lapse into a shuddering vibrato, it evokes in equal measure Grace Slick and Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker. Castle Talk finds her dialing back on the bloodcurdling shrieks she occasionally deployed for emphasis, and, while this does deny the band some visceral impact, it also opens up the sound a little bit and presents a more tuneful, accessible aspect of the group. "Boss", in particular, benefits from this approach; the verses are subdued, and the chorus ("I could be the boss of you any day / I tried really hard") assumes a mournful quality, as if such effort isn't worth it, rather than simply shouting put-downs.

Long-time fans will be pleased to learn, though, that this approach does not extend to reining in Paternoster's more ferocious tendencies as a guitarist. Whether anchoring songs with colossal power chord riffs or delivering scorching solos (which are split fairly evenly between soaring figures reminiscent of Bob Mould's work in Hüsker Dü and J Mascis-like lightspeed freakouts), Paternoster does at least one awesome thing per track. There are bands that can't manage that average per record, so good work there.

Recognition is also due to drummer Jarrett Dougherty and bassist Michael Abbate for the versatility displayed here. Subtle arrangement touches like the wiry new wave groove of "Laura + Marty", the moody post-punk intro on "Boss", and the seasick half-time lurch of "A New Kid" do a great deal to differentiate songs on a record so dominated by one musical personality. The flip side of that is that on songs without such details, the record starts to feel a little samey. There's a stretch of songs in the second half -- "Wild", "Nothing at All", much of "Fall Asleep" -- that sound like everything that has come before, only not quite as good. Even though things pick back up with "Sheep" (which kicks ass, incidentally), you find yourself pining for a little variety.

Unfortunately, the record's biggest change of pace is also its biggest misstep. This would be "Deluxe", the penultimate track. It's a short acoustic song, and what's frustrating about it is not that they can't deliver in a more intimate context, but that it has been drowned in superfluous production tricks, like cavernous echo and a deliberately obscure mix. What begins as a tantalizing hint of a road not traveled or a possible future direction instead comes across as a band hedging its bets by deliberately messing with its least typical song. Since the rest of their material hardly comes across as meek or timid, it's kind of disappointing.

Still, Castle Talk's best moments are reminiscent of the products of the '80s underground scene, when bands like the Minutemen and Dinosaur Jr. made music that was too raw and energetic not to be punk, but rejected the amateurish orthodoxy that plagued so much of the genre. Screaming Females accomplish something similar. It is to their credit that they are still exploring new aspects of their sound on their fourth record, and there is no reason to believe that their best work isn't still ahead of them.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.