Screaming Females All At Once

[Don Giovanni; 2018]

Styles: painting, listening, becoming
Others: HIRS Collective, Aye Nako, Agnes Martin, William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams wrote: “There is a constant barrier between the reader and his consciousness of immediate contact with the world.” To break a barrier, a loss for words, a body turns to painting turns to poetry.

So: “Here is a shutter, a bunch of grapes, a sheet of music, a picture of sea and mountains (particularly fine) which the onlooker is not for a moment permitted to witness as an ‘illusion.’”

The stunned soul stuck walking forever between panes and shards, the illusion of transparency. A moon blacked out like unseeing eyes, an isolating concession: “Now we all dream alone.” A body could be forgiven for sensing desperation in these images: “You’ll always control me/ You’ll always have control.”

Screaming Females will not settle for despair. Their songs hint at dark edges and warping worlds but subsume despondency under joyful noise. Their language is the communion of live shows, relentless motion across the planet. Their tradition is DIY punk, a radical alternative that critic Jon Savage called “an attitude that can be captured at any time, in a laugh, a toss of the head and the refusal to accept anything less than total possibility.” All At Once is the total possibility of tonal freedom.

After “Glass House” and “Black Moon” is “I’ll Make You Sorry,” sticky thrummy post-love pop. There’s an I and a you, a couple of pronouns to relate a universe in a killer chorus: “I once was in love before/ I knew you, I’ve given up/ I once was in love before you.” And there’s “Dirt,” like a lichen-creeping ballad, clipped hooks and breaking windows and the treachery of holding to speaking: “Words made out of dirt/ You’re dirt beneath my feet.” One thing laps on the other. Sometimes we collide. Songs are there to paint temporary reactions to pains. Songs listen and are listened too.

“Agnes Martin” is next, the closest sound to the valkyrie rock of 2015’s Rose Mountain. Hearing Screaming Females in full-flight, like this song and the 14 others, remains one of the surest joys: this is the sound of three bodies in empathetic communication. This is the sound of three bodies learning the lesson that great painter shared: “Everyday for 20 years, I would say, ‘what am I gonna do next?’,” confessed Martin. The waiting for everything, the listening past no thing, was part of getting there. “That’s how I would ask for inspiration. I don’t have any ideas myself. I have a vacant mind, you know. In order to do exactly what the inspiration calls for.”

Screaming Females’ salon-style punk, like Martin’s inspiration and Williams’s Hippocratic modernism, is bi-fold art. Like the poem about the painting, it reacts to both the world and art itself. Martin (“Those wheels emphatic colors/ Tonal oblivion”) posited a sublime beyond beautiful; Williams predicted that the boldest truths of our gnarled world were in iotas of America, towards wards for sick kids. The meta-critical charts a new way to see; the punk proposes becoming new being. Punk music, always timeless (because nothing expires after “no future!”) emboldens consciousness. Screaming Females’ radical point (radical mostly in that it bears repeating, simply) is showing in sounds that consciousness is tied to listening to each other.

“One thing laps on the other, the cloud laps over on the shutter, the bunch of grapes is part of the handle of the guitar.”

By listening harder to each other, Mike and Marissa and Jarrett have painted a wall of disparate sounds and suggested that by each existing alongside the other, each can be raised up. Drum supports guitar supports bass supports voice. If the band could fall into overplaying riffs and extending jams in their past, All At Once shows each sound in balance with the other. Even the two-part, eight-minute “Chamber of Sleep” remains vital, ending in the devastated couplet, “And I’d like to love me like you seem to/ How do you hang this heaven over me?” Sounds listen to sounds if you let them. Sounds can change your life sometimes.

All At Once suggests, in both form and content, that the human tragedies we keep dipping into can be healed by listening. Its you’s and I’s relate to each other, struggle toward dialogue. Even in rankled romance, listening is vital, probably even more so. The songs and styles wheel freely, matching their subjects, from the slow lurk of “End of My Bloodline” (we must know our selves) to the fevered “Fantasy Lens” (we fail to know each other) to the spacious ballad, “Bird in Space” (we know freedom is possible), All At Once sets itself free. By listening, you become part of it.

Less Everything Now (“beckoning us away from consciousness, not toward it,” said Adam Rothbarth) and more Now Only (“one of those hundreds of words for worlds without end tucked into heads of anyone who’s ever lost someone,” said Jazz Scott), All At Once is the sound of radical consciousness raising. Like paintings and the poetries, it is not the resolution but rather, a mechanism (listening) toward (r)evolution. Listen to all sounds. See together. Sell the record at the merch table. Talk to the people in the crowd. “Sometimes people will ask me if fans want to talk gear with me all the time and the answer is no, they just want to talk — talk about their lives, just hang out and talk. That’s what I like best about playing shows,” Marissa said. And that simple radical truth exists alongside the shit sifted in album-closer “Step Outside”: “I’m sick with worry just knowing/ When you step outside, you won’t be safe now.”

“Now” is tricky. “Now” is full of black moons and glass houses, a social network’s suffocation and a headline barrage that could break a body. People die. Safe spaces shrink. William Carlos Williams: “It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”

“And we have a tremendous range of abstract feelings but we don’t pay any attention to them,” said Agnes Martin. Screaming Females abstract a fearful world into a punk shout that sounds like everything, a unity. “When rest comes easy fall asleep/ Let bad men fail us all,” said Marissa in a voice beyond fear. Art is obviously not the rectification of the world’s ills, but to picture that better world plots broken barriers. It sounds like listening, an us consciousness.

“The mountain and sea are obviously not “the mountain and sea,” but a picture of the mountain and the sea. All drawn with admirable simplicity and excellent design — all a unity—” and all at once.

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