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Review: Screaming Females, 'Rose Mountain'

Rose Mountain
Courtesy of the artist
Rose Mountain

For 10 years, Screaming Females' music has come wailing out of the scruffiest and homiest of venues — basements across its home state of New Jersey, house shows from coast to coast, even NPR's Tiny Desk — in a ragged style befitting the band's lean, raw, punk-informed rock. Screaming Females' sound scraps and scrapes, fueled by the canyon-spanning vocals and bruising guitar of bandleader Marissa Paternoster, but for all its DIY roots, every minute feels huge. This is basement punk writ arena-sized.

That's especially true of Rose Mountain, the group's new sixth album, which lends Screaming Females' music its most polished sheen yet. But here, the slickness new producer Matt Bayles brings out never feels cynical, and enhances rather than obscures Paternoster's presence. A screamer and shredder worthy of any vintage hard-rock band, she never overindulges; never wastes a motion. Every sound she makes, even the most bombastic of guitar solos, is made in pursuit of sheer force. Compact and intense — Rose Mountain comes and goes in about 35 minutes — these songs channel the spirit of punk, but also the density of heavy rock that's had the fat cut out.

Even Rose Mountain's song titles capture that bruising directness, as Paternoster blares through the plainspoken likes of "Burning Car," "Broken Neck" and the blistering, wonderfully anthemic album opener "Empty Head." As she roars from song to song, what comes through loudest of all is confidence: a voice that's nervy and open, a guitar placed right at the center of it all, and a band with 10 years of basements under its belt, at the top of its game and ready for whatever venues are up next.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)