On the eight and a half minute, two-part suite, ‘Chamber For Sleep,’ which stands, monolithically, as the centrepiece of All at Once, Screaming Females stretch out like they never have done before. It starts fairly innocuously; just another supremely catchy slice of pop-punk, the likes of which is found all over All At Once. But, at the 2:28 mark, the song shifts gears. Dougherty and King Mike settle into a motorik groove, guitar chords ring out, synths chatter like birds in an astral aviary, and Marissa’s buried, distorted voice intones, “I’ve been waiting a long time” over and over again. It’s utterly hypnotic, and wholly atypical of a band that made its name with the high-wire vocal and guitar histrionics of its frontwoman. Sure, ‘Chamber For Sleep (Pt. 1)’ features a searing guitar solo, but like all of Paternoster’s soloing on this record, it’s not showy shredding for the sake of it. It’s grounded in melody, augmenting the song as a whole rather than drawing undue attention to itself. In Pt. 2, a chiming, arpeggiated guitar lead brings to mind those masters of the indie-rock jam session, Deerhunter, but it doesn’t stick around for long. There’s no aimless meandering to be found here. Marissa, Jarrett and Mike are too keen for the suite to come full circle for another round of irresistible power pop. “How do you hang this heaven over me/Nail me to the bed,” Marissa asks, before whipping out another perfectly judged solo. It’s absolutely head-spinning, and easily the quickest-feeling eight and a half minutes of music I can recall.

More than anything, ‘Chamber For Sleep’ is an indicator of the band’s newfound confidence and ambition. Where Rose Mountain felt a bit like a tentative stumble towards a more streamlined aesthetic (albeit one with some of the band’s best ever songs), All at Once doesn’t suffer as a result of its smoothed-out-edges, because the songwriting is just so damn taut. You want hooks? This album’s got you covered. Never more so than on ‘I’ll Make You Sorry,’ by far and away the purest instance of pop pleasure the band has ever laid to tape. At the risk of descending into hyperbole, ‘I’ll Make You Sorry’ is a perfectly constructed song, and if it doesn’t feature highly on end of year lists come December, it’ll be a travesty on a par with Bruno Mars’ Album of the Year Grammy win. Every section of this song is instantly memorable, and carefully calibrated for maximum impact, so that by the time Marissa unleashes her solo, you’ll be swearing on your mother that it’s the best goddamn guitar solo you’ve ever heard.

When a band fashions two such towering peaks on an album it can lead to a diminishment of the remainder of the material. So, it’s to Screaming Females’ eternal credit that All at Once is pretty much uniformly great. Sure, the shorter tracks, like ‘Dirt,’ ‘Deeply,’ ‘End of my Bloodline’ and ‘Drop by Drop,’ feel relatively slight, but with their various stylistic experiments and compelling sonic details (the percussive accents in ‘Dirt’, the organ and what sounds like an EKG on ‘Deeply’, the slinky seductiveness of the distorted vocals on ‘Bloodline’, the kindergarten glockenspiel on ‘Drop by Drop’), they help break up what is a pretty much flawlessly sequenced album. From the patient, rising tension and ecstatic release of the Black Sabbath-esque opening of ‘Glasshouse,’ right through to the heady-guitar-noodling-meets-full-throttle-pop-punk of closer, ‘Step Outside,’ Screaming Females manage to keep things, not just interesting, but wall-to-wall, grin-inducingly entertaining.

With no disrespect to Jarrett and Mike (who are, in their own right, one of the best rhythm sections in contemporary punk-rock), it’s Marissa who is the scene-stealing star of the show. Her vocals have always been powerful, but on All at Once, they sound commanding, elemental, no longer cracking and bending with the force of her emotions as on the band’s earlier records. “You always control me,” she declares on ‘Glasshouse,’ but it’s hard to imagine anyone or anything getting the better of her when she’s on this form. Some fans might miss the rougher, rawer nature of her performances of yesteryear, but what has been lost in spontaneity, has been more than made up for in sheer power. So much (often patronising) ink has been spilled about Marissa’s status as a modern guitar god (“but, but, she’s a… lady...who can… shred”) that I won’t get into a detailed discussion of the considerable chops she displays across the record. What’s more remarkable is, firstly, how well-versed she is in the myriad styles of playing that give each of the album’s tracks their unique identity, and, secondly, just how playful and inventive, and yet in service to the songs, that playing is.

That playful inventiveness extends to the sound of the album as a whole. Rose Mountain producer, Matt Bayles, returns and manages to put to bed any reservations I had about him reprising his role. To my ears, his work on Rose Mountain seemed to hem the band in, smoothing out the rough-hewn edges, so ably captured by Steve Albini on 2012’s Ugly, that made them so compelling in the first place. On All at Once, there’s no seismic change from what came before, but somehow the band and producer achieve perfect synergy; the relative cleanness of the recording allowing the sharpness of the songwriting to cut deep. Subtle touches augment the compositions and expand the band’s sonic palette. An eerie organ lends ‘Glasshouse’ a sense of encroaching dread as the climax looms, as well as recalling the classic rock era the song is influenced by. The final blast of the song’s central riff features the stabs of a string quartet, which you’ll probably miss on your first listen. That organ reappears on the colossal rocker that is ‘Agnes Martin,’ making the key change as Marissa wails, “the sun destroys me,” sound absolutely immense. Piano sits low in the mix on the countrified, classic rock ballad of ‘Bird in Space,’ adding warmth to the crunch of Paternoster’s guitar and twinkling accents over her uncharacteristically gentle cooing on the song’s bridge. There’s nothing groundbreaking going on, but it all adds up to the best, and mostly warmly inviting sounding album the Females have put out.

That warmth, the relative poppiness of the songwriting, and the fact that the album just flat-out rocks in such an entertaining way, are at fascinating odds with the subject matter of the songs on All at Once, which can get pretty bleak and heavy, even if Paternoster’s lyrics can be a little inscrutable at times. ‘Glasshouse’ is a claustrophobic, cautionary take on the pervasiveness of the ill effects of social media; ‘I’ll Make You Sorry’ is a statement of vengeful intent in response to having one’s faith in love destroyed; on ‘Black Moon’ and ‘Chamber For Sleep’ Paternoster expresses her desire to be grieved for; self-medication and alcoholism crop up on ‘Dirt’ and ‘Drop by Drop’; and on the album’s final cut, Paternoster gets sick with worry just at the idea of stepping outside and not feeling safe. Though my interpretation of the song may be off, it feels like a sentiment that every woman I know can relate to. The leering gaze of toxic masculinity turns every woman’s venture outside into a show with an unwilling performer; a sign apparently hanging from their neck that reads “harass me.” ‘Fantasy Lens’ appears to touch on this too, but from the more insidious angle of the performer/fan relationship: “What men see pleasing/But who, who can I please?/You'll stare at me in a fantasy/Love me through the lens.” “All the men before me, swollen with sin,” Paternoster sings on ‘Black Moon,’ and, given the revelations of the past year, and, you know, just the experience of being alive around men, you see where she’s coming from. A year and a half ago, my wife and I had a daughter, and with every passing day I become more conscious of the shit she is going to have to deal with as a girl and as a woman: the weight of expectation, the denial of opportunities, the crushing burden of prescriptive gender norms. To my mind, Marissa Paternoster is a great role model for how to navigate all of that. Which is why I really hope my daughter becomes a Screaming Females fan. I can totally imagine her cranking All at Once in her bedroom in the year 2030.