By Gareth Watkins
Rose Mountain (Don Giovanni Records)
CALGARY — Imagine it’s 1988 and somebody puts a copy of Fugazi’s EP Margin Walker in your hands. Hell, imagine it’s 1967 and you get a record with a livid yellow banana on the cover that barely includes the album’s name, The Velvet Underground and Nico. You’d know from the first spin that by all rights, the band should be huge. As the years passed you’d see them continuing to toil away at the edges of popular culture, avoiding the easy ways to make a quick buck. They aren’t an institution, but somehow they are the kind of band that eventually is offered ridiculous sums of money to re-form and they turn it down, being more interested in letting the music remain a motive force.
There are a lot of people who have picked up one of the six Screaming Females albums released over the last nine years and had that moment, or who have seen one of their energetic live show, including high profile sets at Calgary’s own Sled Island. They are, according to Stereogum.com and plenty of others, “one of the best rock bands on the face of the earth.” Their new record, Rose Mountain, is the perfect jumping-on point for new listeners.
Their music is hard to pin down, and it’s not because it’s an alienating, outré or genre-hopping mess. It’s hard to pin down because they’ve synthesized modern rock and its constituent subgenres so thoroughly that the traces of individual influences are gone. It’s definitely rock and it definitely rocks: the guitar work can comfortably be described as “virtuoso” without implying masturbatory fret board abuse, the vocals are emotive without being forced and a rhythm section is more than capable of keeping pace with a guitarist who is frequently cited as being one of the best in modern rock.
According to guitarist and vocalist Marissa Paternoster, “on Rose Mountain we spent a lot of time thinking about melodies, so I would say that this is the album where we’ve focused on that most heavily, but on other albums in the past we’ve definitely had slower and less aggressive songs.”
The slow numbers on Rose Mountain include the excellent, almost tropical sounding “Wishing Well’”(though it opens up to an anthemic chorus) and the near-perfect pop breakup song “Hopeless,” the chorus of which is unlikely to ever leave your head.
This time around, the trio recorded with Matt Bayles. As the go-to name in alternative metal, Bayles has worked with Deftones, ISIS and Mastodon.
“We wanted to work with somebody who is both a producer and engineer,” says Paternoster. “We wanted to make a very concise but still very aggressive sounding record and so after mulling over a lot of different options we thought that somebody who worked with metal bands might be able to capture that kind of sound.”
That sound is heavy when it needs to be (such as that grunge influenced opening riff) but the production is crisp and clean.
Regardless of notoriety, Screaming Females remain highly independent, booking their own shows and designing their own covers. It’s less an ideological stance and more a practical measure to retain control of their music and ensure their longevity.
“I think that some people would say that if we had management or had been more interested in corporate sponsorships and advertising then we could have made more money, but I think that a lot of the bands we’ve seen take that route often go as quickly as they come.”
After six albums they’ve already outlasted most bands, and their work ethic is enviable—their low point as a band came as they didn’t tour for seven months. They want 2015 to be the “biggest year for the band yet” and you can help with that. Give Rose Mountain a go: you’ll be glad you did.
Buy Rose Mountain on February 24 from Don Giovanni Records. You can pre-order the album here.AB, Alberta, Rose Mountain, Screaming Females