Thursday, 6 February 2014

Warpaint - Warpaint


Warpaint's Britishisms go unnoticed, even when their Californian (forgive me) swag seems to be overbearing. You're never expecting Warpaint to write a song about surfing, or sunbathing, it's just an unexpected quality Warpaint have towards their worldwide audience. Because of their unnoticed Britishims, Warpaint are allowed to experiment and cater for an audience far (by about 3,000 miles) further than their American home land. Rough Trade signed, Flood produced, and Nigel Godrich mixed; and I'm not forgetting the artwork collaborator on Warpaint's cover - Chris Cunningham. It also helps that vocalist / guitarist Theresa Wayman takes an interest in British men / or man, as I can't imagine anyone passing up James Blake. But Wayman's love interest is irrelevant; picking up on one’s personal life in a music review is like actively validating a reason for Warpaint's sound being affected by relationships: cough, cough - The Observer's resident cat. After all, Warpaint were listed on the BBC's Sound of 2011 hype-list, which sort of gratifies critics in to popularisms instead of reading behind the lines, or in this case, listening behind the lines.

The Fool was the rightful follow up to what is my favourite debut EP ever released - Exquisite Corpse, 2008. Now there's some bias in that statement, but it's the progressions of "Beetles", innocence of "Billie Holliday", and sheer guitar rock prowess of "Elephants" that put Warpaint on the map. They developed with the help of producer Tom Biller, but there was more of a natural development of sound rather than a forced studio change - as further developed with their second album Warpaint. Where The Fool lacks in vibes and ambience, Warpaint thrives. But that's not to say Warpaint is the complete package in Warpaint's discography, far from it really. The Fool had single material in "Undertow", "Shadows", "Composure", and plenty more - Warpaint doesn’t have this. Sure, the pre-release single "Love Is to Die" is in fact a stated single, but it's pretty much the only track on Warpaint worthy of mainstream radio airplay. And as mean as that sounds, it's somewhat understated given the quality of Exquisite Corpse and The Fool. Now there's cause for this change, but it won't alter the minds of Mr. Smith and Mrs. Johnson in the UK expecting the BBC's poll to come through with top 10 material. If the UK hype-following audience aren’t satisfied with an album worthy of BBC Radio One airplay with more than two singles, then critics and fans alike will label Warpaint's sophomore as boring hipster shit. As you and I both know, that's not the case.

Cunningham's artwork of blurred bodies and faces combined creates the starting aesthetic of Warpaint. This is very much a relaxed piece, a step back from The Fool's complexity. The focus is on production, and how four talented musicians can intertwine to create an album of sophisticated, 'sexy' tracks. Well, they do it, and they do it well. The opening track is simply titled "Intro", bringing Warpaint back down to the simpleness of an album package. There was a self-titled track on The Fool, and now a self-titled sophomore album. It takes the audience away from the intricate recordings on Warpaint. The synthesizers on "Intro" are very similar to the ones used by The Twilight Sad on their latest album No One Can Ever Know. It's this dark ambient feel that separates Warpaint from the West coast norm. Their musical cynicism is almost depressing, but to a dream pop level, as opposed to what would be sadcore. They take influence from post-punk of the 80s, and dream pop of the 90s, and now a core influence from the atmospheres of certain artists rather than genres - so Joy Division's percussion, Mazzy Star's guitar, My Bloody Valentine's vocals, and J-Dilla's sound. An eclectic mix which is more presumptuous than based on fact, but combine all together and you pretty much have Warpaint's sophomore.

What sounds like math rock with a vengeance on The Fool, sounds even darker and precarious on Warpaint. The guitars on “Keep It Healthy” suggest this neo-psychedelia feel from The Fool and Exquisite Corpse is long gone - say hello to ethereal guitars and bass of 9pm Manchester. It's continuation of the synthesizer and bass riff from "Intro" really suits the following four minutes. There's a focus on bass and percussion rather than the harmonic vocals and electric guitars of Warpaint's past. The ball has always been in bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg's court, having seen Warpaint live in person, Lindberg's presence at centre stage seems unusual for a quartet where the two dominant vocalists are electric guitarists. But the friendships in Warpaint shine, as the four become two two's on many occasions in their live set and on record. Warpaint sees Lindberg team up with drummer Stella Mozgawa to curate the single "Love Is To Die". Sure, Wayman sings and Emily Kokal supports this with her reverberated guitars, but it's the percussion handy work and bass accompaniment which take this track from the beginning stages of a jam session, to a fully constructed single in a pop fashion. Wayman's layered vocals add texture while Kokal's guitars add that extra 'Warpaint' element. It's hard to imagine Warpaint without their individual aspects. They all bring something different to the studio, and Flood must have had a field day working with such talent at a raw level.

Production value can be overlooked in the recording studio with guitar based artists, but it's something not to be taken for granted. Flood has utilised several aspects of Warpaint's sound, such as the raw guitars conflicting with the ethereal on the penultimate track "Drive", which features some of Warpaint's best work to date. There's a defining bass riff which is less obvious than previous tracks such as "CC" and "Go In". "Drive" has all the elements of Warpaint's past, but underlined by the slow progression and build-up which Warpaint as an album doesn't exactly achieve too often. This album is a focus piece, which should be listened to with headphones rather than a car stereo. It has a focus on sound with soul, eliminating background music foe what is natural sounding instruments. "Hi" is a perfect example of a track needed to be enjoyed through relaxing the body and mind, perhaps lying down, with headphones. You can really hear the hidden reverb, the electronic drum beat compliment the vocals, and Lindberg's bass. It's a chilled out track which picks up over time, backed by one of the more encouraging tracks on Warpaint, "Biggy". Kokal sings lead, as she does for the bulk of Warpaint. There's a bigger focus on how the ambience of the track can show up different vibes, exactly how Flood wants it to come across. The synthesizer is a key aspect to "Biggy", with soundscapes backing up the electronic aspect of a track so plainly based on simple percussion. 

Warpaint does have weak moments as predicted. "Disco / Very" seems very unfitting for this album, and would have suited The Fool rather than the tight group of tracks on Warpaint's second effort. "Tesse" is a lovely little track, but the first two minutes seem a drag when compared to the following two which never really go beyond harmonies and a very light guitar progression. This is passed by the slow build-up of  "Go In" which never seems likeable, even on extended listens. "Feeling Right" is a spark of form on the back half of Warpaint, but it's successor "CC" takes away what would be a fantastic closing quarter, as mentioned above with "Drive"' and it's elegant build-up. Warpaint's closer is the most heartfelt of the bunch - "Son". It features a very distinctive marching percussion rhythm, which is out to the left hand side of the recording. This allows the matching vocals of Kokal to take centre with electric guitars out to the right. A very good finishing touch to what is a breezy sophomore album.

I once fell asleep listening to Warpaint - live at a festival. I'm adamant it wasn't the alcohol from the night before, or the lack of sleep for that matter. It was Warpaint's ability to calm the audience's mood through sound. In person, they can be even more lucid than on record, but Warpaint's second album will give their performances and local hotels a boost in terms of audience participation. From the cool synthesizer riff on "Biggy", to the ethereal backing vocals on single "Love Is To Die", Warpaint have easily constructed an album of glistening guitars and night time ambience. Flood and Godrich probably have something to do with this, but it's Warpaint who are acting it out in the studio. Mozgawa is at the heart of every recording, and this album wouldn’t be the caressing product it truly is without her percussion. Warpaint stepped away from jamming, but they've also stepped further away from single material. They're the hybrid of experimental rock in the dream pop field, and unlike fellow female fronted Cali band HAIM, Warpaint deserve the credit for doing something different. There's very little modern guitar music which compares to Warpaint's depth, and nothing which comes even remotely close to the personal individual talents of each member. Yes, there’s still room for improvement. I would like to see Warpaint return to guitar dominated tracks like "Elephants" and "Composure", but the overall blend of instruments show how far they have come since 2008. This dark, elegant second album really is for the British man who has a fling with Joy Division, and listens to Radiohead's Kid A at night now and then. It's for the fan of The Fool who sees more purpose in construction, rather than destruction. Warpaint is la long-winded album at 50 minutes, but it's definitely worth it when the listens clock up.
~Eddie Gibson

8.6

No comments:

Post a Comment