Album Review: Warpaint – The Fool (Rough Trade)

Avoiding the Spectorisms of their fellow females, the LA four-piece instead go for dense, dark dreamscapes

It hardly bears repeating that, when lists evaluating 2010 are squared up, it’ll be judged a temporal stepping-stone back to non-existent nostalgic times. With that has come a wave of trad Spectorite girl bands, delighting – for better or worse – in quaint tropes of girlishness: incessantly singing about boys or the lack thereof ([a]Best Coast[/a]), wallowing in the romance of being in a girl gang (Dum Dum/[a]Vivian Girls[/a]), and plonking femininity front and centre (Frankie Rose & The Outs). Don’t even get us started on The Like. It’s equal parts our good fortune and [a]Warpaint[/a]’s bad luck that divine writ saw their six-year career flourish amid this fashion-fickle scene, into which they’ve been co-opted on account of – yup – being pretty ladies with an address book full of glittering names: a fucking boring fact that’s dragged up at every opportunity.

[a]Warpaint[/a] don’t deserve that. In the nicest possible way – in that no-one should give a toss – they’re hardly a fashionable bunch. The four of them look as though they were dragged away from sniggering at Beavis And Butt-Head in the early ’90s, all bushy-browed and slouchy. That would be pretty much irrelevant if it weren’t for the fact that that’s where their sound stems from too. The dulled, monotone guitar that bruises the opening of ‘Set Your Arms Down’ sounds like a sun-blinded moment from post-rock pioneers [a]Slint[/a] (alma mater of David Pajo, currently Interpol’s live bassist) while Emily Kokal’s fragile, confrontational vocals hark back to Cat Power’s before she got the coffee table blues. Whereas the aforementioned nostalgia harbingers use below-fi production for an injection of rawness, this rings true and thick as dark blood seeping from a wound, every splotch of live amp overdrive captured, a drone beneath that runs with the fast-slow trajectory of a night drive. The live heartbeat of their sound is so intimate that it feels as though we’re peeking through cracks in the garage door, spying on them at work and longing to enter their hallowed coven. ‘Warpaint’ wriggles within that same thickness, never forsaking their dark minor chord clang, but allowing the vocals to obscure themselves like an albatross diving beneath the waves.

When the production relents and the lyrics become audible, occasionally they’re a bit hokey wolf-woman. Take the otherwise gorgeous, nerve-snappingly tense ‘Bees’, where Kokal sings “the full moon taunts me”. It’s not an oft-trod cliché though, as proven by the engrossing paranoia of ‘Shadows’. “The city I walk in, it feels like it swallows”, she coos through a bent acoustic echo and piano that chinks like crushing teacups. The shimmering, vast production reverberates as if off blank skyscraper faces, emphasising the isolation of the city into which her eventual enticing howl melts. ‘Composure’ is equally smart, the four of them crowing into the dark with a mixture of Electrelane’s mystery and playground taunts. Its torrid structure mirrors the internal dilemma that they shout within – “how can I keep my composure?

Unlike the punchy ‘Exquisite Corpse’ EP, ‘The Fool’ doesn’t deal strong melodic blows, but neither does it suffer for that. The dark purple rumble and hypnotic coo of their vocals swim along, dragging the listener beneath its beguiling surface into a swathe of subtle time changes and guitar prone to sudden swan dives into heart-stabbing gold arcs from oil painting-thick landscapes. For all the talk of [a]Siouxsie Sioux[/a] (present on mixing duties) passing on her thorny goth crown, Warpaint’s is a different darkness, not delighting in splendour or show, but in deftly exploring a bleak internal, romantically bereft landscape. It’s our good fortune that such a unique band exists to cut through the artifice of namedropping and cribbed influences. And for that, we should wear their stripes with pride.

Laura Snapes

Click here to get your copy of Warpaint’s ‘The Fool’ from Rough Trade Shops.

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