Screaming Females - Desire Pathway (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Screaming Females

Desire Pathway (2023)

Don Giovanni

There are over 100 “I’s” and over 100 “yous” in the lyric booklet for Screaming Females’ eighth album Desire Pathway. That’s surprising because on the band’s last album, All at Once, guitarist/singer Marissa Paternoster stated she was done making personal records and wanted to focus outward instead of inward.

And yet here we are- a new Screamales album that really only has two subjects- I and You. The word is it’s a breakup album and that’s pretty evident throughout the album. But, there’s the first interesting twist. Even though pretty much every track is about the wake of an intense relationship, there aren’t any “you’re a fucking asshole!" Lyrics. Rather, our speaker her details separation in cosmic terms- there’s no bad guy or girl, just two worlds that meshed at one time and then didn’t any longer.

On tracks like “Let me into your heart,” Jarret Doughtery on drums and King Mike on bass match this astral trippyness with likeminded instrumental soaring. (Marissa also adds some Hendrix style feedback). But then, when it does get far out on the album, the band hammers it back down with a classic Screamles power riff. Except, the band has changed somewhat. It’s almost as if they have refined and perfected themselves in that the riffs and jams here are powerful and pure, but not simple. I’m reminded of the precise power punch of Thin Lizzy and dare I say, the tactical, precise guitar striking of ‘70s Alex Lifeson, and like classic Rush, the band still retains a raw, but not unprecise, power strike. This is all a long winded and needless “academic” way of saying the band knows exactly what to play, when to play, and they hit the marks precisely. There isn’t a wasted riff here. There isn’t a wasted second. That is, just as the lyrics can be soul moving, the music is almost scientifically tested to do the same. I guess after almost 20 years and eight albums you learn a thing or two, but here, screamles have distilled themselves down into their own pure essence.

As with previous Screaming Females records, while many of the lyrics are personal, Paternoster clouds them in a surrealist cloak. I particularly like “Desert train” because a) the poppy-chorus is as catchy as it is sing-songy; b) I like the weird phrase “I’m a freight train in the desert dragging chains”; c) I like to image a Thomas the Tank Engine type thing except Thomas’ face is any of the Screaming females; d) we need more train imagery in modern music. All of that together serves some really interesting purposes. Paternoster gives you some wonderful tools- failing computer simulations, a dove of death, cars that spit- that you can use to make up your own meaning or try to decode Paternoster’s own. It also lets her be public and private at the same time. Sometimes digging around other people’s minds lets us understand our own better and Paternoster seems to be encouraging that exercise. Her symbolism and abstract paintings are at their absolute height here. Even though the core message is one of sadness, the imagery in this album is really fun- so much that at times it feels like a cover painting from Heavy Metal Magazine. Paternoster’s world is one of high-tech gizmos, decapitated body parts, and things melting that should not melt, and it all makes for a pretty fun adventure.

Interestingly though, despite these crazy images, the band is as close to being a pop and or pop/rock band as they ever have been. “Morning Dove,” which is one of their best songs ever (maybe best), finds Abbate really merging a bouncing bass with a slight prog influence, and just goes to show how the dude is up there with Bootsy and Wyman- simplicity and rudiments are two separate things- the former being the craftsmanship of a master and the later being step one. This is also seen by Doughtery’s work. The dude’s works are often subtle, but as unseen as they may be, they are massively effective. On “mourning Dove,” he slightly changes intensity and the power of his striking. This reverberates through the res tof the band causing the entire band to have a sensitivity and dynamic that many bands would blow right past. Dougherty doesn’t need to show the listener he’s top ranking- he’s happy to let his works do the work without a neon sign. I could humiliate a lot of other heralded drummers here by comparing their clomp-clomp-clomp to Doughterty’s subtle mastery, but being the kind of guy he is, he’d probably shake his head and deny the difference- though I know what’s going on behind those glasses and I think he does, too. Also, I’ll note that this is the second record in a row by Paternoster which has used doves as a fixture symbol. Hmmm…

What’s most exciting here is that the Screamales are still doing the Screamles thing- kick ass riffs, power bass, snappy drums, weird ass lyrics- but somehow, they are distilling the core concept down to its slickest form. Most bands usually have their strongest identity on the first or third album. Somehow Screamales are more Screamale than they have ever been before… even though they are getting closer to classic rock and pop with every album. Interesting that in an album that is about a breakup, the band is more unified and more cohesive than they have ever been before. I say it before with every Screaming Females album, but really, THIS ONE is the best one yet. With these kind of results, imagine if the bandmembers got dumped before every release!