Album of the Week: Warpaint – ‘Warpaint’

20.01.14

It’s hard to pick apart a Warpaint record. It’s been four years since the Los Angeles four-piece released ‘The Fool’, but they never quite seemed to disappear from the collective consciousness, despite never oversaturating it. It’s in the same way that their self-titled follow up sounds like the same Warpaint without ever being boring or, worse, becoming a parody of themselves.

Perhaps its because they gave it time, a scarce resource these days. Woven across bass, guitars, drums, and keys, harmonised voices navigate a world of familiar instruments to produce something fresh, but comforting. Throughout the restless amble of Keep It Healthy, a distant guitar (although maybe it’s a cello, or its synthesised equivalent) emerges to just within earshot – it’s just there, floating in the top-right corner of the mind’s eye (or ear) of a musical canvas sprinkled with gentle guitar melodies and delicate snares. A forceful kickdrum prevents it from floating away entirely, as one of many self-realising abstractions and ungraspable emotions are drowned in this sentimental, but never maudlin, music. You imagine the lyrics are good, even if you can’t quite make them out, their meaning submerged and subsumed by the three women – maybe four, with their drummer Stella Mozgawa – singing in unison from the mirage of their second album.

Why don’t people make long players anymore? Or good ones at least. Trapped in the self-absorbed culture of the digital age, there are too many shortsighted attempts at mirroring the distracted and frenetic pace of modern life in music, rather than transcending it entirely. With Warpaint, absent are the sounds of order-of-the-day electronica or the style-over-substance of corporatised indie rock in favour of a more nuanced, contemplative and essentially human approach to a sound that is genuine and, ultimately, moving. 

But, far from giving the sense of authenticity-via-nostalgia that contemporary guitar music tends to generate, there’s a contextual awareness to 'Warpaint'. It subtly references everything from funk and R&B in the drunken sway of Go In to post-hardcore and noise rock in the growling reverb of CC without ever compromising the band's own powerful aesthetic. There’s even a synth patch highlighting a honking keyboard melody on Biggy that resembles (but probably has nothing to do with) a shrieking loop underscoring the whole of noir'n'b hybrid 18+’s oixu on ‘MIXTAPE3’ – and that’s without mentioning that Biggy generally sounds like something Captain Beefheart would have written. 

There’s humour in ‘Warpaint’, but not irony; sensitivity, but never weakness, and the muted and muffled cries of the cavorting Disco//very can attest to that. You can hear it in its primal arrogance as the track rattles over groggy wailing and the acerbic affront of “we’ll rip you up and tear you in two!" Weirdly, there are echoes of math rock in its compulsive, polyrhythmic drive. Except it seems to come more naturally to Warpaint. It’s less macho posturing and cerebral precision and more a collection of elements knocking against each other, finally converging into a single thrust forward.

7/10

Rough Trade released ‘Warpaint’ on January 17th 2014.