Warpaint are a band that does not get as much spotlight and credit as they deserve. Featuring Emily Kokal on vocals and guitar; Theresa Wayman on vocals and guitar and Jenny Lee Linberg reliably supplying supple bass and backing vocals – Stella Mozgawa is on drums and has been part of the band since 2009. Included as part of BBC’s Sounds of…2011 poll and gaining acclaim in the U.K. and U.S.: Their debut album was understandably hotly-received and celebrated.
2010’s The Fool caused such heated reaction and poll plaudits: A blend of oozing and dreamy sounds; head-tripping and feverish; unlike anything that had been out there. If you called it a ‘genre record’ then you would not know what genre to put it into. Everything about the album was raw, unprocessed and basic. The vocals and guitars had an imperfection edge and it was an album that could have been made by a band practicing in the garage – albeit it, a group that defied convention and created something much more compelling and delightful than your average indie/rock no-hopers.
The eponymous sophomore released (2014) was more brooding and dreamy than the debut and introduced an album critics felt one could immerse themselves in. Completely dream-laden, hypnotic yet flecked with edginess and dark undertones – a hugely impressive release from a band that wanted to be taken very seriously. In spite of its glamour and romance, there was a definite untrained and unsophisticated side to it: Building up atmosphere and delirium but folding in on itself. Brilliantly contrasting, dynamic and unpredictable: The band’s stock built and eyes were on them for album number three. That arrives in the guise of Heads Up. Previous singles New Song and Whiteout have shown left-field, more urgent tendencies. They assessed love and its multiple sides but (the new songs) are more power-pop and urgent. Quirky instrumental touches are less overdubbed; somewhat polished perhaps. It does not mean Warpaint have lost their personalities and their loose and natural sound – they have built on it and throw more elements and genres into their music on album number three.
Opener Whiteout starts with propulsive, compressed beats before lacing with elegant strings. That combination of carnivorous and tender works wonderfully. You still get live-sounding vocals and curious lines – “Before you know the answer you’re running out of time” – but there is more shine and layers to Warpaint. A typically dreamy and sensual cut: You will be hooked by the ghostly, Shadows-esque guitar strains and crackling beats; the hushed and direct vocals and band chemistry. Wanting to believe “all you say”; another romantic investigation but one where the hero seems to have a bad reputation and cannot be trusted – the heroine gives him short shrift and a sense of wariness. New Song is the single that has signaled a side-turn and new direction for Warpaint. Without doubt, one of their most immediate and rousing songs to date – much more power-pop-influenced than anything across their first two albums. That is not to suggest commerciality and watering-down creativity has crept in. New Song insatiably builds to a sing-along chorus of the highest order. Instantly memorable and indelible: One you will be humming and recalling it like a fond romantic memory.
The Stall brings one instantly back to something more level and introverted. Twanging bass and teasing beats provide a sense of eeriness and twilight crawl – contrasting the sunburst explosions of its predecessor. The vocals are whispered to the extent of being almost indecipherable. Romantic, breathy and intense without cheapening its soul or fitting into commercial moulds. “But I won’t give up on you” is a mantra that seems to define the album as a whole: Sticking by someone, maybe not always strong and dependable, has potential and a good heart. Don’t Let Go opens with plaintive guitar and a wistfulness that adds new dimensions and ideas to the album – one already brimming with colours, diversions and varying emotions. Pastoral, swimming and tender; it is one of the purest and most direct love songs. “I need you now” are words that have never sounded as relevant and meaningful as here. The percussion especially shines in its rollicking, roiling and tempestuous part (perhaps crashing waves or a heart that is near explosion). Switching between echoed and far-off backing vocals and clear and concise lead: It is a track that is constantly moving, evolving and enticing. The guitars change from languid and aching to spirited and kicking; the bass constantly moving and eliciting rhythm, melody and life.
Heads Up is as fractious, pained and affecting as anything you have heard from the band. Vocals seem undisciplined, tormented and unfocused before a sturdy and defined bass pushes the song forward. Percussion keeps it light and driving whilst the vocals remain enigmatic, beleaguered and exhausted – occasionally waking up and rousing during the chorus. “I know, I know, I know why” and “It’s okay, It’s okay, It’s okay” are words that seem relevant to the girls but to the listener, they could convey a number of things – another set of lyrics with obliqueness but some very real emotions. Hardcore and grumbling bass matches constantly compelling percussion on one of the album standouts. It is another song on a solid and unexpected record from a band that continues to impress and up their game. Containing shades of their first two albums but building on that solid foundation: Perhaps their best effort yet and proof, if ever it were needed, they are among the most underrated and to-be-treasured band working in music.
Heads Up is available now through Rough Trade Records