Album Review: Warpaint—”Warpaint”

By James Li

First impressions can be misleading, and sometimes that’s a good thing. When I heard that an all-female quartet called Warpaint was putting out a self-titled album this year, I was anticipating it would sounds like Los Angeles’ answer to Savages’ Silence Yourself. Even the first track is a false start. The album starts off with drummer making a mistake while counting off. And though the brooding instrumental intro sounds like it’s primed to explode into something loud and aggressive, it never does. In fact, for something coming from a band called Warpaint, this album is surprisingly sedate.

Warpaint’s debut The Fool made waves in 2010 with its woozy vocal melodies and languid jams, but this album is even hazier than its predecessor, and in my opinion, even more compelling. Of course, there are a ton of hazy dream pop bands out there. The fact that the members of the band share vocal and songwriting duties, and that they look to trip hop and R&B for inspiration on this album (most blatantly on “Disco//very”), help distinguish Warpaint from the rest of the pack.

Warpaint album artwork.

Warpaint album artwork.

Other bands in their genre tend to bury their rhythm section deep in the mix, but Warpaint’s rhythm section often steals the show on this album. Stella Mozgawa’s drumming stands out above all else and Jenny Lee Lindberg’s bass lines alternate between tethering the band’s melodies and leading them. Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman’s guitar lines and vocals, on the other hand, provide more of a textural element to the music – the auditory equivalent of sheer white silk.

It’s also impossible to ignore the sexual vibes that this album gives off. Theresa Wayman told The Guardian that the band set out to make a “sexy” album, and shared that “playing music can take you closer to that same kind of state of ecstasy as an orgasm.” The shimmering lead single “Love is to Die” is certainly ecstatic, but the sexiest tracks on this album also happen to be the most daring ones. “Biggy”, for example, borrows shamelessly from trip hop and arrestingly closes with the words “heat of a lover” as a coda. “Drive” is a synth-laden ballad with gorgeously layered vocals that simmers along before climaxing with a dramatic key change.

However, not every track is a success on this album. The music is, for the most part, low-key throughout the entire album, so when they dial themselves down, such as on “Teese” or “Go In”, they sound less captivating. And while Warpaint have a gorgeous sound, they could stand to improve their songwriting, “Love is to Die” is the only track on the album with a distinct chorus, and though any effort to break from conventional songwriting is admirable, many of the songs on the album are not as memorable as they should be. Despite these minor reservations, however, Warpaint succeed at what they set out to accomplish and made one of the first great albums of the year. (Rough Trade)

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