Warpaint – Warpaint

Warpaint_frontAs far as I recall 2010 brought me quite a lot of ‘hipster approved’ music. And to be honest, bands such as Local Natives, Caribou, Balthazar, Sleigh Bells, Suuns and Warpaint showed a lot of promise back then. The press however was most jubilant about the all-female art-rock outfit, Warpaint, coming from Los Angeles. Surely the involvement of former Red Hot Chilli Peppers guitarist John Frusciante had something to do with that. Initially he successfully helped Theresa Wayman (vocals and guitar) et al to create a trendy, but also out of the box, post-punk sound. Warpaint’s first full length album, The Fool, was therefore deemed to become a self fulfilling prophecy of success. The Fool confirmed this status and stormed the 2010 indie charts and also received some favourable reviews for being swamped with moody chords and haunting vocals. However, where do we go from here? Extending a successful phase by simply releasing a new record isn’t an easy task. For their colleagues Sleigh Bells and Suuns the follow up proved to be a troublesome struggle. Indeed this doesn’t automatically mean another, more negative, self fulfilling prophecy for Warpaint is opening up. So lets give the eponymous second album a spin and hear if they’re able to enchant listeners once again.

Self-criticism lies the base of this new Warpaint album. According to Wayman, The Fool was ‘too unpredictable’  contained ‘too much instrumentation’ and therefore was ‘totally crammed’. With these strong words in mind the band is determined to steer their music towards a new direction, of minimalism that is. It goes without saying a busy city isn’t the best place to achieve this sort of rebirth, so the woman exchanged the congested LA for the openness of Joshua Tree National Park.

At first glance, Warpaint strongly taps into the style of their debut. ‘Keep It Healty’ is a smart executed interplay of in and out of focus quadruples whilst ‘Love Is To Die’ is based on a chorus-verse structure and somewhat reminds of the 2010 semi-dreamy single ‘Undertow’. From here on the band branches off towards trip hop by pushing back the guitar play and putting synths and beats more up front. ‘Hi’ serves as a fine example of a floaty, dominated by beats, 90s ambient-pop track. And this is just the beginning of the new devocalized Warpaint. ‘Teese’, ‘Go In’, ‘Drive’ and ‘CC’ all have the same goal, that is, creating numbness, sparsely piercing you with some high tones to cause some liveliness. Thoughtfully the band uses electronica which is lightly supported with guitars which is excelent material to play during late evenings. Experienced listeners will acknowledge this craftsmanship but will also miss some excitement. A brief revival on this hazy trip is only comes into play on ‘Disco//very’, which has a seductive sting to it and is exactly what you should expect from an upcoming band like this.

Geographically seen a trip away from the urban sprawl to the open desert seems logical when you’re objective is to plunge into minimalism. Yet was a retreat like this really necessary to come familiar sounds of trip hop, which is in fact a multi-ethnic, and especially an urban creation coming from Bristol (UK). Nevertheless, the outcome of Warpaint´s reinvention is paradoxical on a fundamental level as well. On the one hand the new album succeeds in being more tranquil and more spacious. While on the other hand the band´s unpredictability, which was found in the smart use of anti-pop song structures, is mostly lost. If The Fool was a wayward tribute to new wave and punk, this album is a safe tribute to the trip hop of Hooverphonic, Smoke City and Massive Attack.

Maybe intentions were met, yet I think it’s questionable why a band that used to explore the edges of indie rock now turns into the path of the obvious. I simply expected more from Warpaint than a repetition of moves that others made twenty years ago. Were Wayman´s intentions to renew the bands style premature? And, do this changes cause the band to artistically grow? Well, that something to ponder about during some late night lounging with some Warpaint on the background.

Label: Rought Trade, 2014

Tracklist:

  1. Intro (1:51)
  2. Keep It Healthy (4:02)
  3. Love Is to Die (4:52)
  4. Hi (5:11)
  5. Biggy (5:55)
  6. Teese (4:42)
  7. Disco//very (4:05)
  8. Go In (4:01)
  9. Feeling Alright (3:33)
  10. CC (3:49)
  11. Drive (5:12)
  12. Son (4:07)

Further surfing:
Official site
Warpaint on Bandcamp
Warpaint on Tumblr

Review by Wander Meulemans // 310114

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