Three years on from their towering 'Rose Mountain' LP, Screaming Females return with album number seven – lucky for some, and (in this case) especially those in thrall to the gargantuan powers of The Riff. A long-term exponent of the guitar’s most thrilling tricks, Marissa Paternoster knows that executing ‘em deftly yet plentifully is the best way to get a rock fan’s blood pumping. Naturally, 'All At Once' feels suitably triumphant as she serves up the goods once more.
That’s not to say it’s all feelgood stuff, however: opener Glass House finds Paternoster dissecting issues of control from the inside out, imploring wretchedly, "Take my madness beneath your heel". The sense of claustrophobia is magnified as driving basslines are isolated and trapped between imposing walls of crushing riffola. It’s a helluva way to announce your return – by turns powerful, ethereal and (finally, as a coda of ‘Impossible to get out’ repeats itself) explosively raw – not to mention an emotionally ravaging opening cut.
Control and escape prove to be repeated themes across the album (the uncharacteristically groovetastic 'Space Bird' sighs wistfully about longing to "look nice / Like a bird in paradise"), with the gut-punch of Paternoster’s vocal in fierce competition with her nimble fingers for the album’s focal point throughout. Bandmates Jarrett Dougherty (drums) and Mike King (bass) are also in fine fettle here, however; All At Once finds them pushing their arrangements and experimenting with new rhythms and sounds like never before.
Crucially, it feels like the work of a band completely in sync, trying to push in different directions before ricocheting into new territory and exploring with a gleeful menace. Some of the riffs here are fragile and fun ('Fantasy Lens' dive from spiky noise to gentle jangle feels spontaneous and is naturally brilliant) while others simply get their heads down and their hands dirty ('Agnes Martin' has more than a hint of QOTSA to its formidable noise). Word has it the band wanted to echo the free-flowing nature of their red-hot live shows on this record; all evidence points to that being a pretty smart idea, overall. This is the work of a band continuing their dramatic ascension from spirited young punks to one of the finest power trios on the planet – even at it’s bleakest, 'All At Once' is sheer rock’n’roll joy from start to finish.
Words: Will Fitzpatrick
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