JessX unleashes primal “Scream” but not before its time

People scream for all sorts of different reasons. Out of fear. Ecstasy. Anger. Exultation. To lose control for a moment. To seize control of the moment. 

But when you hear someone actually let out a hair-raising scream for reals any potential ambiguity usually melts away. Is the screamer in question about to be murdered? Or to achieve orgasm? Fly into a rage? Visit the astral plane? You can usually tell because screams aren’t about being subtle. They don’t need words to communicate. 

But notice how I said “usually” and “usually” (critical readers are sensible readers!) because, for starters, some of the most memorable screams in musical history are impossible to pin down and classify. Like for instance take Little Richard’s scream before the sax solo in “Good Golly, Miss Molly.” Or Roger Daltry’s protracted wail at the end of “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Or Kathleen Hanna demanding to know “HOW TO LOSE CONTROOOL!!!” with a shriek of defiance and ecstasy and dread all mixed together in one. These are primordial screams. Multiple emotional hues are contained within. 

JessX’s new single “Scream” (an exclusive premiere! for the next several hours!) is a song I’d venture to say falls squarely under the primordial scream heading to the point where it makes me wonder if the band have been studying the works of Arthur Janov or maybe Babes in Toyland. Either way, band-leading singer-screamer-songwriter Jess Rosa outlines some of the reasons they have for screaming in lyrics highlighting family stress, financial strain, romantic anguish, future uncertainty, existential doubt, general boredom and frustration, desire for liberation, and even good ol’ physical release and emotional exhilaration however induced (I’ve had my highs but fuck my lows) so yeah this song is very explicitly about the primordial scream that contains multitudes come to think of it.

But here’s the thing: for most of the “Scream” there’s no screaming at all. Instead, Jess sighs and whispers, whimpers, groans, growls, snarls, mewls, moans, murmurs and meows over a new wavey bass guitar driven groove that gradually builds in intensity with layers of wire-y guitar dissonance and intensifying volume building up a delicious tension that reminds me a little bit of Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia” and “Youth Against Fascism” (dated references, yes, but nothing’s dated about fascism these days!) so in other words this is a song that’s about the need to scream as much as screaming itself (I wanna fucking scream so loud…should I just do it?) and the need to release all the fragmentary, chaotic voices we all carry around within whether we admit it or not (I feel so trapped with my friends / I got two of them in my fucking head).

And it’s not just a conceptual thing either cuz you can actually hear the chorus of internal voices in “Scream” thanks to the magic of vocal overdubbing (headphones recommended!) first singing in near-unison but soon breaking off into dialogue and ultimately into babel as the voices becomes more insistent and clearly differentiated taking over entirely in the breakdown section (PMRC warning: subliminal messages!) until the much-anticipated scream finally arrives near the end of the song and it’s equally unsettling and cathartic when it does with the howling choir ping-ponging around inside your skull (again, headphones!) like a swarm of bats released from the belfry just like in the music video. (see top of page!)

But to be clear it’s not all down to the vocals (however powerful!) or digital bat graphics (however cool!) because JessX is a five-piece also featuring the musical talents of Avi Henig (guitar/production), Eva Smittle (bass), Matii Dunietz (drums, production) and multi-instrumentalist Bernardo Ochoa a.k.a. Panther Hollow all of whom make their presence strongly felt. And next the Deli recommend you check out their full-length LP Baby Faced (2021) because “Scream” merely makes explicit what that defiantly queer debut album is about and how good JessX are at taking elements of emo-adjacent pop-punk, avant-garde post-punk (Raincoats, LiLipUT/Kleenex, Slits, X-Ray Spex, you get the idea) and glitter-caked glam rock all poured into a Cuisinart and set on purée with the occasional ukulele thrown into the mix and incidentally Jess Rosa grew up in Hawaii before relocating to NYC a couple or few years back.

And ever since JessX has served as a sonic diary for Jess’s journeys not to mention the collective journey of its members. Or as Jess Rosa puts it when it comes to “Scream” specifically: “This song was more of a freestyle with some retakes. I remember recording this with my friends and just feeling safe enough to scream my head off. I feel like out of all the music I have put out, this one is definitely lyrically unfiltered and I had no problem saying what I was feeling in that exact moment. I spoke about everything that was built inside me during those months of 2021. Recording this was the most therapeutic thing to do during the mental state I was in.” And this is a great summation of why you should start a band immediately (send us your demo tape!) but until then you can always scream along vicariously to "Scream." (Jason Lee