It’s difficult to look at the stats on New Jersey power trio Screaming Females and not see the band as a throwback to countless styles and sounds gone by. Initial spins through the band’s fourth album, Castle Talk, are bound to be derailed by games of “spot the reference”: There’s the pealing Dinosaur Jr. fills in “I Don’t Mind It” and “Ghost.” “Sheep” boasts a classic loud-soft-loud structure—with accompanying sexual frustrations and Ivy League anxiety—à la the Pixies. At least one time per song, frontwoman Marissa Paternoster adopts the vocal vibrato of Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker.
However, Castle Talk eventually outpaces its obvious debts to the past, revealing a collection of refreshingly raw, heartfelt punk songs played with a crackling verve held over from the band’s constantly packed touring itineraries. Propelled by the understated beats of drummer Jarrett Dougherty, Paternoster and bassist Michael Abbate wind circles around each other, with Abbate’s rubbery basslines making room for Paternoster’s fretboard fireworks. Paternoster is a versatile bandleader, playing confrontational on “A New Kid” before getting vulnerable on the spare strummer “Deluxe.” Her solos are occasionally undone by Castle Talk’s thin, untreated production—but a record that could so convincingly slip into the back catalog of SST or Kill Rock Stars shouldn’t sound state-of-the-art anyway.