Styles: early 4AD-style darkwave
Others: Cocteau Twins, The Raincoats, Dead Can Dance, Zola Jesus
Chances are you’ve heard of these guys already. The all-girl L.A. quartet’s internet profile has been steadily growing since their release of the John Frusciante-mixed Exquisite Corpse EP in 2008. And, really, who’s surprised? No one who’s laid ears on tracks like “Elephants” or “Stars,” that’s for damn sure. The melodies unfurl like slow-motion fireworks in a moonless sky, sprawling, snaking, shimmering. Warpaint found that coveted sweet spot between freshness and familiarity: a sound that was instantly identifiable within a respected lineage of female-fronted post-punk, while still sounding completely distinct from anything currently on the market.
There’s an almost gothic, early-4AD sensibility that informs Warpaint’s music, a dark, otherworldly quality that recalls Cocteau Twins shot up on gestational Dead Can Dance instrumental dynamism. The more forceful, prominent role of the guitar is crucial, acting as a witch-light to guide us through the haze. The best of their compositions wind inward like oneiric labyrinths; you can easily find yourself standing at the center without understanding which twisting corridor brought you there. And at the heart of the maze? Not one, but a trio of Ariadnes: Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman, and Jenny Lee Lindberg laying down the delicate thread of their luscious vocal harmonies that lure us deeper into the death-trap rather than free of it.
The Fool steps into the ring swinging with the vicious three-hit combo of “Set Your Arms Down,” “Warpaint,” and “Undertow.” Their eponymous track, in particular, is a thing to marvel at; opening with some sinister guitar interplay and a stuttering snare beat, the whole song marks time, gathering energy like a coiled spring waiting to be unleashed in the finale. By the second half of the album, though, things are starting to drag a little, in spite of the band’s best efforts to shake things up. “Composure” tosses in a near-unintelligible vocal chant reminiscent of Lilliput, while “Baby” is a solo acoustic ballad. The latter is lovely, but a little too similar to Bat for Lashes for comfort. Only “Majesty” really performs on the level of their opening three-song volley. Another place where the album could be stronger is in the lyrics. They’re on surer footing than before (there were some real clunkers on Exquisite Corpse), but every once in a while, some trite sentiment (”Why you wanna blame me for your troubles?/ You better learn your lesson right now.” ) or downright wooden phrase (”My love is your flashlight”) sneaks in. Ambiguity is the key, and their lyrics work best when they avoid literal interpretation.
In spite of its shortcomings, this is a strong first record. Everything that made their debut EP so enchanting is here and used to good effect. In fact, they’ve established such a distinctive, seductive M.O. that I could see Warpaint facing some challenges down the line finding ways to expand on their sound without destroying what sets them apart. I, for one, will be looking forward to their next move.
01. Set Your Arms Down
09. Lissie’s Heart Murmur