Jan 29, 2014

Music Review: "Warpaint" by Warpaint

By Rron Karahoda

In 2010, Warpaint emerged with debut album The Fool, which sounds like a studio version of The Band’s freewheeling and wispy performance style. Their pacing & energy, dramatically changing throughout the album, laid a bedrock of expectations coming into their eponymous follow up. In an interview with The Guardian, guitarist Theresa Wayman said of the aesthetic: "we leant towards things we thought were sexier." For a band as wispy & fluid as Warpaint to describe their new album as sexy conjures up images of slowed down rave scenes in a movie; it’s not a sight to look forward to. Warpaint, requiring a couple of listens and a decent pair of headphones manages to (mostly) avoid cliche and is an enticing album that you can find yourself grooving to.

In an almost ideological sense, Warpaint is an account of the traumatic timeline that love can be, and it’s apparent from the opening bits of "Intro". With their new drummer Stella Mozgawa in tow the album starts off with a mistake. Or is it? It sounds like a purposeful double-take that functions like a joke about their new drummer but also about the moment in which you first notice a new object of affection. The album centers itself after this first “hiccup” with what is the most catchy song on the album, "Keep it Healthy". The lyrics are romantic without being mushy, and coupled with a beautiful disjointed melody is a little reminiscent of what you might get out of Grimes if she decided that you should understand what she were saying. A moment where the singer says “Don’t forget don’t forget!” is really sweet and keeps the pace moving in this urgent way as if you’re being told not to forget something very specific. Are we being warned to keep our sense of love healthy perhaps?

A beautiful choice throughout this album is to use the bass as a melodic instrument which, through headphones, is a really encapsulating experience. Although not usually a primary melodic instrument, this choice allows the rest of the music to simply float above you. Unlike other bands which have found that their favorite way to the hearts of their audience is through a perfume department of effects, Warpaint gives listeners a dynamic heartbeat to hold on to.

Warpaint tries to break out of the indie curse on key signatures and attempts some radical changes in mood that are so immediate that for a second you think you’ve made the jump into listening to a track from Danish pop group The Asteroids Galaxy Tour or maybe even Phoenix before their unfortunate absorption by most modern car commericals. For example the key change in "Love is to Die" is a movement from B minor into what is most simply C# Major with the melody playing D# jumping up to G# (2nd to the 5th) played over the root note. It’s a move you don’t hear all too often these days but has always had a strong effect and fits perfectly with this theme of ‘sexy’ moves that Warpaint is preoccupied with. Choices like this, unexpected when you first listen to this album, really show that the mist-dominated field of hi-fi indie can extract itself from the mush it tends to create.

Aside from a few songs like "Teese", "CC" and to a lesser extent "Drive", which seem to drag on and distract us from the rest of the album, Warpaint is diverse, intelligent and a very clever fusion of sexy ideas. Songs like "Biggy", which sounds like a really slow and distorted Stevie Wonder, and "Hi" might not sit with audiences immediately because of asymmetry between groove and vocals. However, after a few repeat listens a logic starts to appear in each song of the album, and a serious story of love seems to be being told. Can you hear the ups and downs of love in this excellent album?

Grade: A-

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