Monday, January 27, 2014

Album review: Warpaint, Warpaint

Posted By on Mon, Jan 27, 2014 at 7:00 AM

I've spent some quality time getting to know the ladies of Warpaint this week, yet even with undivided musical focus, the LA quartet still seems more like the gauzy photo on the cover of their new self-titled sophomore album than real flesh and bone. Its subtleties demanded obsessive listening, the initial instinct of wanting to love this "difficult second child" quickly turning into a compulsive need to understand the reasoning behind its creation.

Warpaint is a far cry from the expected follow-up to 2010's The Fool — that of a well-hyped band returning after years of exile. Instead, the musicians come off as not giving a fuck about expectations; they're gonna do what they want.

"Intro" opens the album with some giggling over mistakes before a menacing bassline carries in the melody and merges gorgeously with effortless rhythms and a soft guitar lilting in like an afterthought. Warpaint throws their first of many question marks into the fray early, however, following the rough instrumental opener with a completed studio version of the same arrangement, now called "Keep It Healthy." Sure, there are subtle differences between the outtake and completed track, and the vocals bring added depth, but the decision to open the album this way remains perplexing — especially considering Warpaint's three-year absence from the music scene.

"Love is To Die" is the obvious stand-out, everything a Warpaint fan might hope for — dream pop with a spine, minimal yet lush, and thoroughly addictive. With subtle rhythmic insistence, Stella Mozgawa fully owns her role as the permanent replacement to a rotating cast of drummers, and the chord change on the refrain is disjointed and unexpected enough to grab your attention before a steep drop into intricate guitars. Imbued throughout the track is Warpaint's signature contrast of echoey vocals and bass melodies that made them so successful with 2010's The Fool.

From this very high point, the album takes a swift turn into moody, trip-hoppy hypnotics with "Hi," more of an instructional title than friendly greeting that finds bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg repeating the same six notes through nearly the entire song. "Biggy" falls into the same repetative trap with synthesizers, its layers of swoony vocals sure to earn Warpaint plenty of Cocteau Twins comparisons. "disco // very" recalls one of the more forgettable early Luscious Jackson tracks; the rhythmic bass and chanting feel a bit tired. "Feeling Alright" and "Drive" prove strong but are buried so deep in the album that you might miss them if you can't get through it. And even these are creepers, requiring repeat listens and concentration to catch on.

In interviews, the band claimed they wanted to abandon the heavy production of earlier recordings in favor of a more stripped-down sound. But obviously Warpaint needs structure, focus, and the wisdom of producers like Red Hot Chili Peppers' John Frusciante and Josh Klinghoffer to put together a hit album, especially considering their experimental ways and tendency to repetition.

So at what point does the experimental self-indulgence stop? Could this release have been stronger with better pacing and forcefully guided production? Is Warpaint even a band that can be guided? Ultimately, it doesn't matter; you'll either hold on tight and take the Warpaint trip, or not. Either way, they'll keep on doing their thing, exactly how they want to.

Critics' Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars.

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