Screaming Females does a touch too much on “All At Once”

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There’s a lot to love on “All at Once” but there’s a lot on “All at Once” in general. “All At Once” is a double LP release from rock/punk band Screaming Females running at about 51 minutes. For both better and worse it feels longer than that and covers a great deal of ground.

Screaming Females is a three-piece band that’s been making music for over a decade. They’re a band known for their guitar rhythms and for a fairly good reason. The drummer Jarrett Dougherty and bassist Mike Abbate don’t slouch but the focus is on frontwoman, guitarist, and vocalist Marissa Paternoster, a guitarist ranked in the top 100 of all time by SPIN magazine.

“All at Once” follows that mold, making songs with some pretty solid melodies from the drum and bass but much more ear-catching vocal and guitar parts. Yet, Screaming Females aren’t guitar-porn. “All at Once” isn’t the album for wicked guitar solos as it is the album for interesting guitar lines that make for surprisingly catchy and engaging songs.

Paternoster can create a rhythm that steals the show or elevates it as a whole. To the credit of Dougherty and Abbate, they always keep up and have some moments where they shine. They also write the songs with Paternoster and Screaming Females has a lot of well-written songs.

“All at Once” has good moments where every part comes together to create something interesting but it’s speckled with lackluster moments too. Lackluster doesn’t equal bad. “All at Once” sounds like and is an album from a practiced and experienced band that can make a solid song pretty easily. The lackluster moments on the album don’t make it bad as much they make it drag and feel underwhelming.

I couldn’t remember a handful of songs after listening four or five times over. I didn’t feel they were bad but they add much to the album. Songs like, “Deeply,” “My Body,” “Drop by Drop,” and (most of) “Agnes Martin” felt unoffensive but uninteresting, too. They usually end up going somewhere but it takes a while and bearing with them to that point gets tiring.

Other songs like the “Chamber for Sleep” part one and two I had mixed feelings about, enjoying what they built up to and how they transitioned into each other but feeling like the first part of “Chamber for Sleep (Part One)” was repetitive. Part of that comes from the anthem vocals on this album where they chant the same lyrics over and over akin to Rage Against the Machine. This is a fine approach but after 50 minutes it can wear on you. When “Chamber for Sleep (Part Two)” fell out of its mellow melodies and into the anthem vocals I was a bit disappointed. The break from the vocals felt nice.

That said, I generally liked the vocals and lyrics on the album. The repetitive nature of the lyrics makes this already 50-minute long album feel longer than it is but they also hammer home some cool points and beautiful, mysterious lyrics. Paternoster’s strong, unique voice sells them well too. She carries these long, dramatic notes that make a lot of lines sound damn cool. Paternoster makes lines like, “my life in this glass house / impossible to get out” feel compelling even if the meaning isn’t clear.

There are plenty of stellar lyrics to highlight, too. The lyrics to “End of My Bloodline” read to me like a political conversation over women’s rights but the fun is that I could be totally wrong. Similarly, “Black Moon” seems a feminist social commentary in some ways but it’s poetic to the point that you can draw many meanings from it. Take the first verse of “Black Moon” for example:

“all the men before me swollen with seed /
Scraped the earth nude and clean /
Ground to till, air to breathe /
With missteps for no one”

This verse leaves so much to the imagination. It has a rich vocabulary that is sharp and visceral and fits the rhythm of the song. It’s hard to ask for more than that.

I also loved how oddly catchy “All at Once” could be. I found myself singing “Glass House” and “Bird in Space” days after listening. They’re interesting earworms too so it’s nice to have them caught in your head. They feel like odd mantras that are a perfect mix of understandable and intangible.

This is definitely an album that sticks in your head. The lyrics have a nice weight to them, feeling deep but not overbearing. Paternoster makes iconic riffs with a lot of instrumentals to remember too.

The flip side is “All at Once” lives up to its name and throws out a lot of noise. As an album, it feels bloated at times and like its more notable songs have to fight its duller ones for attention. I loved listening to some tracks on the album but didn’t want to listen to the album front to back more than once or twice because “All at Once” is too much. There’s a lot to love, but plenty to leave, too.

7/10

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