A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Ever since i first saw Warpaint at The Mohawk in Austin, the first year i was at SXSW, before they had even released their first EP, i knew they were something special. Theresa Wayman (gtr, vox), Emily Kokal (gtr, vox), Jenny Lee Lindberg (bass, backing vox), and Stella Mozgawa (drums) ((i think they might have had a different drummer at the time)) were the perfect combination of humble and total badass rockstars, that made you root for them. Amazingly enough, they did (maybe i need to pick up betting or horses), with 2010’s The Fool blowing up in the charts, becoming a favorite to a lot of folks.
I only heard The Fool once or twice; i liked what i heard, but there’s a lot of goddam music out there, and i have heard A LOT of records since then, so i’ve been in the unique position of looking forward to this record, and not knowing what to expect. So i can’t tell you, specifically, how this record stacks up against that record, but i have managed to mine some insights from it’s grooves, particularly into the collective unconscious of indie rock, and underground music in general. This is one of the first hotly anticipated albums of 2014, so it serves as a decent representative of where folks heads are at.
The first thing that struck me about Warpaint’s self-titled album (apart from the mystery and slinkiness, which is obvious from the first drop, on “Intro”), is the constructive use of space and restraint. This is a major release on a major indie label, Sub Pop, and yet the quartet did not feel the need to fill every inch and nanosecond with busy work and details, just because they could. Every element gets it’s own space to breathe and ring out, and glorious reverb just adds to that effect. Single and double note guitar lines hang and shiver in the air, dappled with an Explosions In The Sky-worthy echo and delay, while the bass throbs and the drums pummel and thump.
Warpaint has way more electronics than i remember the band using in the past, with weightless synth pads floating in deep space. This is one of the most successful blending of the electronic and the organic that i have yet heard, showing our increasing skill at sculpting air and conjuring surreal dream worlds.
The sublime production and recording leads you into the vocals, compels you to lean in and listen to the lyrics. This is the first record in god knows how long that had me googling and deciphering the lyrics, trying to find the key and unlock this record’s mysterious heart. The lyrics are cryptic while still seeming personal and emotional, which makes it poetry. Poetry set to a stomping disco beat. The overall impression i was left with was the sensation of falling in, and being in love. Whether it’s with a lover, a friend, a bandmate, or just transcending yrself on the dancefloor, it sounds like losing yrself, then finding yrself, in love. Like on the track “Biggy” (posted above), i pictured a young woman, flush with love and lack of sleep, dancing all night at a club, maybe with somebody, maybe alone with her thoughts and memories, backlit with white light, throwing long shadows on a concrete wall. It makes me think of a rather odd album comparison, to Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s ego-dissolving, Love Is a Stream, that simulates the feeling of being washed over with love with post-Loveless monolithic guitarwash.
Once yr sold on the music and the words, you begin to pick up on the inflections, and that is where this record really shines, like towards the end of the song “Hi.”, where the vocals crack and break, high and sweet. When the music is solid, the songs can truly take flight.
This is the first record that Warpaint have created together, as a group, so it could be considered their groove album. Their rhythm section has received a lot of love, and i’d like to add my voice to the tumult. The lockgroove of bass and drums is truly something exceptional, worthy of Can or Neu!, but soulful, funky. These link up to gove Warpaint’s music an endless, epic, infinite quality, that is somehow both Human and eternal.
Another comparison, that i’m surprised no one else has put together, is to another romantic favorite: The Cure. The chorused & flanged bass, the midtempo, the gorgeous guitars, and elegant synthesizers, all stack up to remind me of Faith/Disintegration era, mixed with vintage trip-hop. This is an influence i wouldn’t mind catching on and spreading.
It is exciting to hear rock records that are exciting and innovative, again. It seems, for the past 3 – 5 years, so much of our listening time is devoted to electronic arts, but good ol’ r’n’r is what got us into this mess to begin with, particularly of the indie variety. That was some of the first music that seemed personal, that we found ourselves, that gave a feeling of belonging and ownership. To watch it degrade into a series of formulaic degradation has been mildly heartbreaking, and sometimes threatens to leave us cynical. But then you get a band like Warpaint, that come along and reward the faithful.
Warpaint’s self-titled record manages to be both chill and uplifting; it drifts, but it also drives. Some of the tracks (“Love Is To Die”, “Biggie”) would work in that mythical club i was describing above, while a lot of it drifts like a feather on a breeze, a shadow on the wall, or smooth tires on concrete.
Warpaint also manages to be both sublime and highly emotional, personal and transpersonal. It could soundtrack falling in love, or the comedown. Some other reviewers have criticized the lack of songs, but i feel like Warpaint is of a whole, it’s a world, and a worldview, to explore the nuances, to get to know the seasons, and the wildlife. Need yr faith restored in Indie Rock, and the state of modern music, particularly the “mainstream”? This is a good start.
Excellent stuff! Can’t wait to see what else they come up with, to go back and revisit their old records, and see ’em live, if they come through. Let us inspire you to do the same.
RIYL: Le Tigre, James Blake, The Cure, love, silence
Warpaint – Warpaint is out now on Sub Pop
Hard Copy: Warpaint