Warpaint - Warpaint
Record Label: Rough Trade
Release Date: January 21, 2014
Even having discovered Warpaint in 2012, roughly the midpoint between their debut album The Fool and this, their eponymous sophomore effort, the wait has felt eternal. The group—vocalists/guitarists Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman, bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg, and drummer Stella Mozgawa—holed themselves up at Joshua Tree to write this record, and the end result sonically conjures the vacant desert locale. They have always been a band brimming with potential, and their first release in four years shows a band alive with a humble confidence that is evident from the very start.
Though they let their light side show by leaving in an audible “sorry!” on the intro, the first song “Keep It Healthy” is as clear a statement as any that Warpaint mean business. The odd time signature and layered percussion suggest an ambition to not only match their previous effort, but to blow it away entirely. Kokal’s voice sounds as angelic and honey-drenched ever, while Mozgawa’s distinctive, pulsing beats, combined with Lindberg’s wandering bass lines, remain the driving force under which the haze of guitars and keyboards can float.
Lead single “Love is to Die” is arguably the poppiest song Warpaint has written to date, with a straightforward song structure and catchy chorus, but the propelling drums and bass line is classic Warpaint. “Hi” follows up with a distinctly darker sound, shifting from chill ride-along to quiet and intense, with layers of harmony washing over everything. The songwriting is both interestingly complex and beautifully simple, and the vocals even more ethereal than on previous releases.
There is, in fact, an unmistakably sexual air to this album. Not in an overtly graphic way, but in the way that music can lull the listener to a state of bliss and let them just hang there for a while. Whether it’s Wayman or Kokal delivering the vocals, it’s not hard to picture them singing to a lover; something about Wayman singing “I’m in heaven,” sound persuasively genuine.
As producers go, Flood was worth waiting for. He ensures that the soundscapes Warpaint create are expansive but free of unnecessary gloss. It easily brings to mind the desired effect of sitting in a room and just watching the band perform. Much like The Fool enveloped the listener and carried them to another plane of existence, Warpaint cultivates an aural landscape with enough space to float through; each element is given its room to breathe and contribute to the whole.
Warpaint have gradually begun introducing electronic elements into their music, and now there are points where they abandon guitars altogether. “Biggy,” for example, rides a slow, grooving beat under a deep bass line while lightly pulsing keyboards and some synth effects dot the empty landscape. It’s a track that seems ripe for sampling by some hip hop artist, fitting since hip hop was specifically mentioned as a source of influence on this album, if not in musical substance than definitely with respect to style and flow.
Their light side comes to the forefront again on “Disco//very,” an album highlight that sees the group lyrically channel their inner rap group over the sounds of an underground disco club. Gang vocals warn the listener “don’t you battle, we’ll kill you, rip you up and tear you in two” in the most fun way those words can be said. You can just picture the band donning the substance of their namesake as they unleash their battle cry to the world.
But the true theme to this album is the various forms of love. Whether it’s a straight love song like “Teese,” with a surprisingly vulnerable sounding Wayman spinning webs over soft acoustic guitar and R&B influenced rhythm; love for their band on “Drive,” a realization of how fortunate they are to be living their dream “into the eye, into the storm;” or closer “Son,” one for Wayman’s own that glides to the finish line with rolling snares and vocals as pensive as they are touching. You can almost hear Wayman overcome with emotion herself singing, “You can rest in finding that your roses will grow older, you can see the reason why your story is not over.”
Nor is Warpaint’s. This is an album that rewards multiple listens; with each repeated spin some new element is discovered, and those songs that once seemed deceptively lunar and foreboding reveal subtleties that slowly rise to the surface, enriching the depth of the experience.
Unless you’re Weezer, you can only self-title a record once. So what prompted Warpaint to pick this moment in time to immortalize? With this being the first release featuring all four current members being involved in the creative process from the ground up, using the three full years of touring experience that they’ve gained to their advantage, it almost feels like a new beginning for the band. The release of this album, that forever commemorates this snapshot of this band at this moment in time, arrives along with a realization that this may be just the beginning of something truly great.