When Los Angeles band Warpaint’s debut album ‘The Fool’ came out in late 2010, it was a soundtrack to late-night, solitary strolls through empty streets. It came on like an undiscovered tropical disease, pulling you into the underbelly of life via its drunken spell. Its loose ‘songs’ were woozy concoctions, sprawling into unexpected directions, distracting you from the world – and from Warpaint themselves. The quartet kind of hid within their beguiling jams, mere facilitators of a groove, which they’d noodle out with no regard for time or space. ‘The Fool’ was years in the making. The lineup changed throughout the process, revolving around guitarist Theresa Wayman, singer Emily Kokal and bassist extraordinaire Jenny Lee Lindberg. They acted strangely, like a gang of giggling kooks, impenetrable to the outside world yet able to make their music work. You wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d never got round to a second record. They could have just faded away into obscurity, a passing fling.
Well, thank fuck they didn’t. Say hello to Warpaint 2.0. If ‘The Fool’ presented them as ethereal hippies with musical nous, ‘Warpaint’ drives them forward as masters of their talent, seriously loaded with ambition and prowess. The gearshift is a result of two massive influences. First: Stella Mozgawa. The Aussie drummer joined Warpaint to tour 2009 EP ‘Exquisite Corpse’ once the majority of ‘The Fool’ had been written. It’s now hard to imagine a Warpaint without her. She is their beating heart, and ‘Warpaint’ is her first foray into collaborating on the writing process. From the opening beats of ‘Intro’ and ‘Keep It Healthy’, Mozgawa directs what’s to come with her unparalleled skills behind the drumkit, developing intricate grooves with Lindberg. As a rhythmic duo their chemistry is near supernatural. Second: the foursome have welcomed in a couple of technical experts – producer Mark Ellis, aka Flood, who’s worked with Foals and U2, and Radiohead mastermind Nigel Godrich, who mixes ‘Love Is To Die’ and ‘Feeling Alright’. Those two tracks are bona fide tunes, with (shock, horror) choruses and a crisper, more direct sound. The latter is, in essence, an R&B song.
Despite their increased focus, Warpaint remain aloof. And therein lies their power. This is a deeply personal record, unequivocally sensual. ‘Disco//Very’ is their most fearless move yet, descending into an animalistic shambles with predatory lyrics (“Like cyanide, it’s poison/She’ll eat you alive”) and a prowling bassline. It’s the foreplay before the gently rousing ‘Go In’, which sounds like a seductive and Valium-injected take on ‘We Are Siamese’ by Peggy Lee. ‘CC’ continues the lustful pursuit, growing dizzier as the lyrics and chords make you beg for more. ‘Drive’ and ‘Son’ are new territory for the band, the former containing a gorgeous climactic key change, evidence of a newfound penchant for control. It’s immensely fulfilling. Warpaint haven’t just learned to read each other, they’ve learned to read their listener.
In fact, the listener becomes so embroiled with ‘Warpaint’ it’s like being in a relationship with someone who’s emotionally unavailable. Yet you keep coming back, and the album grows more intense every time you hear it. You press your ear closer to it, trying to make out those still-muffled lyrics that are //just// out of range. ‘Warpaint’ is a record that reaches out to touch you, but won’t let you touch it back. It’s an intimate moment with a complete stranger who draws you near, invites you in and then spins you out. And when it finishes? Poof! The stranger’s gone and you wonder if you’ll meet them again. Will we meet Warpaint again? Here’s hoping.