New Jersey alt-rock trio Screaming Females spent a decade refining their sound to a near-perfect punch on 2015’s Rose Mountain. They took elements of metal, punk, alternative rock and pop and melded them together into increasingly more concise songwriting.
Then the band took a surprise left turn with 2018’s All at Once, a wandering, unfocused, ambitious, and kind of long-winded heavy-rock record. And it’s their best album to date.
“I think we definitely did a lot of self-editing with Rose Mountain. We were working toward cutting the fat out of our songs,” says singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster.
The group had gotten a lot of positive feedback for Rose Mountain, and were busy touring on it for a majority of the past three and a half years, so they didn’t have a lot of uninterrupted time to focus on making its follow-up. They tend to not write on the road, so it was a song here, a song there when they were at home. This gave them a chance to do a lot of demos and experiments.
Rather than continue to refine the sound that has proven to work for the group, they expanded every aspect of it. Some of the poppiest moments of the group’s career emerge on this record, as well as some of the angriest, and certainly some of the longest songs they’ve ever written.
“We don’t really usually have any kind of list of rules that we need to adhere to when we start writing, we just try and do whatever feels natural—but also try and do things that are new and challenging for us,” says Paternoster.
Songs like “Agnes Martin” have an almost hair-metal vibe. “Dirt” draws from late ’70s art rock. “Soft Domination” channels the groove-rock of Fugazi (in fact, Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty adds a second drum part to the recording).
This is the first record the band really thought about in terms of being a single work of art. The title All at Once refers to a concept the members had early in the process; that one can focus in on all of the smaller parts of a piece of art, while simultaneously considering the whole.
“There are some albums that you can get a vibe when you think about the record. It makes you think about a certain time or a place, how the weather was outside when you first heard it. We wanted to make records that can be a part of people’s personal lives,” Paternoster says. “Before, we’ve always wanted to make records that people enjoy listening to, and there’s not much else to it, I suppose.”
The album jumps around lyrically, but a theme that seems to pop up frequently is the changing nature of connection. On opener “Glass House,” Paternoster talks about how hard it is to create a meaningful online relationship. On “Step Outside,” she tells people to leave their house even though “you won’t be safe.”
“There’s no way any of us really knew how quickly the way we interact with each other in the world would change in such a small period of time,” Paternoster says. “So I think if it’s not something that’s on your mind, that’s kind of crazy, especially if you’re my age.”
Despite it being a departure for the band, the reviews and responses for All at Once have been quite positive, maybe the best they’ve ever received.
“We have been lucky that every record we’ve done has gotten incrementally received a little bit better than the last one,” Paternoster says. “Our ultimate goal is to engage with as many people as possible, and hopefully make their lives feel a little more fulfilled and happy—and go out on tour and have cool experiences and make new friends.”
Screaming Females play at 9 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11 at the Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $12/adv, $15/door. 429-6994.