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Beyond shaking boots

Screaming Females bring guitar rock with surprising complexity

New Jersey trio Screaming Females bring catchy, muscular guitar rock. Photo credit: Christopher Patrick Ernst

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In the ‘90s and early ‘00s, the prevailing wisdom about the indie rock scene was that both bands and audiences alike were petrified at the notion of dancing - a stereotype well-earned, based on the bookish, record-collecting image of the indie rock norm. Bands like LCD Soundsystem emerged to act as a corrective, gently coaxing indie music fans back out on the dance floor, and largely succeeding. Since then, though, thanks to the whole of music functioning in an ebbing and flowing wave of trends, indie rock based on monstrous guitars has increasingly taken a backseat to the electronics and universally satisfying pop hooks have risen to become embraced by music fans who would've shunned them only 15 years ago.

Bands like Screaming Females are doing their part to fight back against that current. The first time I heard them was on The A.V. Club's Undercover series, wherein artists are invited to come in and cover a song from a diverse selection voted on by readers. Fittingly, the New Jersey guitar rock trio chose to subvert the most mainstream, inescapable trifle on the list. It takes a hell of a band to take a pop confection from Taylor Swift and transform it into something fearsomely muscular, but that's what Screaming Females accomplished with their cover of Swift's ubiquitous "Shake It Off." Right off the bat, frontwoman Marissa Paternoster projects the opposite of Swift's class president image, stout and grimy with an elemental howl that is as essential to Screaming Females' sound as the lean, robust instrumentation.

Among a litany of bands that get name-checked when discussing Screaming Females are guitar rock legends like Dinosaur Jr. and Sleater-Kinney. Their 2012 album, Ugly, as produced by analog-worshipping iconoclast Steve Albini, grabbed the band their first big bit of attention, thanks to their raw, elemental power on display. Rather than resting on their laurels, though, Screaming Females changed things up with their 2015 LP, Rose Mountain; switching Albini out for Minus the Bear's Matt Bayles, Screaming Females found a more polished and varied sound without sacrificing what their fans initially found so compelling. Yes, Paternoster's voice remains unvarnished and impactful, and drummer Jarrett Dougherty and bassist Michael Abbate are as tight and driving as ever, but the band's scope and vision was blown wide open. A deft touch and a willingness to leave their comfort zones resulted in the band finding new, unexpected avenues of expression.

As live performers, Screaming Females cannot be touched. For a band that has consistently toured and released material for a decade, they continue to leave everything on the stage, not content to simply rely on their reputation to carry them through a rote appearance. Paternoster, as a bandleader, brings a feral energy that belies her diminutive stature. Simply told, the band is ferocious, even when they're at their poppiest. If a band can make you shake in your boots with a Taylor Swift cover, just imagine the effect they can have on an audience when they're firmly in their element - an element that bypasses boot-shaking in favor of spine-rattling.

For as uncompromising as Screaming Females are, though, they do an incredible job of walking the tightrope of approachability. With such clever songwriting and composition, they can convert even people most averse to punk or heavy rock. Hooks and anthemic choruses seep through their music, resulting in a uniquely captivating sound that holds you fast and doesn't dare let go. Bands like Screaming Females threaten to usher in a new normal for indie rock - one removed from wispiness and shallow dance - and it's a thrill to follow them along that path, as they drag you by the hand.

Screaming Females, w/ Moor Mother, Pines, Bad Sleep, 9 p.m., Monday, Oct. 24, $8, Obsidian, 414 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.890.4425

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