Warpaint – ‘Heads Up’ Review

California’s coolest lift their usual murk on a free-spirited, adventurous third album at odds with its ‘mature’ description

Using the word ‘mature’ to describe a band’s new album is often a euphemism for a record devoid of the ideas or spirit that made them interesting in the first place. Bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg has labelled Warpaint’s third album exactly that, but there’s no need to panic: these LA ladies have broken with tradition and made a ‘mature’ album that doesn’t mean they’ve bypassed fun.

Where the Californian quartet’s previous records (2010’s ‘The Fool’, 2014’s ‘Warpaint’) have focused heavily on building an intense mood, ‘Heads Up’ instantly feels more spontaneous and relaxed. Its glittering peak, ‘New Song’, was born out of the band larking around and singing about playing a, well, new song. It’s easily their best tune to date; a huge slab of euphoric pop that begs you to hit the repeat button. The title track shares a similar nagging energy, but manifests it in a Cure-style bassline and Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman’s gleaming post-punk guitars.

In interviews, the group have said they wanted to make the album more representative of the excitement of their live shows. To do so, they’ve brought their dancier influences to the fore, stripping away a lot of the hazy, brooding atmospherics they used to cloak their songs in and ending up with a sound that’s 10 times more immediate. ‘So Good’ bounces along on Lindberg’s elastic bassline and the minimal ‘By Your Side’ is an ode to female friendship that has them singing “Got my girls, I’m not alone” to drummer Stella Mozgawa’s twitchy, hip-hop-inspired beat.

Like their self-titled album’s ‘Biggy’, ‘Heads Up’ also makes reference to an iconic hip-hop star. ‘Dre’ doesn’t sound overtly like its namesake – it’s too languid and lacking even the slightest vigour – but it apes the genre he works in with a foundation of processed beats and synths, and guitars that are chopped up to sound like they’ve been sampled. It’s symptomatic of the album as a whole – more adventurous and free-spirited than the ‘Warpaint’ of before, but retaining the laid-back DNA at their core. For once, Warpaint sound like they’re having fun – and it suits them.

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