The luminous quartet’s third album simmers and slightly underwhelms
Warpaint (vocalist/guitarist Emily Kokal, vocalist/guitarist Theresa Wayman, bassist/vocalist Jenny Lee Lindberg and drummer/keyboardist/vocalist Stella Mozgawa) are an LA based outfit that long ago established themselves as engaging, artful and even insidious in ways – creating music that trickles into the psyche and stays there. Moments from debut EP Exquisite Corpse and follow up The Fool will stand the test of time. Songs like “Composure,” “Baby” and “Billie Holiday” will float through the years encased in an inpenetrable bubble – such is their beauty, ferocious delicacy and limbo-inducing effect. The goal with third album, Heads Up (Rough Trade), was to speed things up – both the process and the sound. Of the process, bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg states (via Irish Times) “We started in January and we knew we had to be done in May so it was ‘here you go, here’s the song, go put your piece on it, go play your part, be quick, you don’t have 10 years to figure out what to do.” They worked alone or in pairs, and quickly. As for the sound, Warpaint’s intention was to make a faster, dance-oriented record, taking the band’s live energy and pairing it with the moody hypnosis they’re known for to create moveable machinery that doesn’t sacrifice the emotion or core of what Warpaint is about.
Heads Up begins with “Whiteout,” with sound rolling in immediately, buttery and catchy with drums that are clear and concise, holding down swirls of synth, keys and powerful vocals. “By Your Side” is sinister and sexy, a song that uses a plodding beat to hold the listener accountable, layering in Hail To The Thief-worthy swathes of electric effect in seamlessly.
“New Song” (the single release of Heads Up) is lightning quick and catchy, born from a candid moment at Desert Daze in which the band introduced single “I’ll Start Believing” by chanting “It’s a new song, you’re a new song to me,” and accidentally creating a moment that birthed a brand new track. If the goal for “New Song” was to create a can’t stop moving, can’t look away hook infused track, mission absolutely accomplished. Is the track fresh in any vital ways concerning the dance genre? Not necessarily. What’s fresh is that this take comes from Warpaint but even so, with cave inspired synths that sound warped from Nu Shooz, an ever-used cadence and what feels like template pop lyrics (“I have never felt this strong / dancing to you all night long”), the track leaves a little to be desired. Things start to get interesting at the 2:55 mark, but quickly fades back into normal pop song territory. It’s great to know that Warpaint can craft a killer, shimmering dance track – it’s less inspiring that they didn’t do a bit more with it.
“So Good” sees a generous use of rhythm , making bass and percussion the immediate stars of the track, while “Don’t Let Go” is lush and slow with an underwater sound; the vocals on Heads Up are considerably more confident and bare. Stripped of their diaphanous, siren-like sound of yore, the band’s delivery still contains hypnotic harmonies but now they’re paired with clear call out verses. It’s a beautiful and mature step that pays off.
Last track “Today Dear” begins with light rainfall and a woodsy, pliable guitar that trods along beautifully until warbling, shattery vocals come in. “Today Dear” is exquisitely simple, imperfect, atmospheric and a gorgeous bridge between Heads Up and what may follow – the Warpaint version of an after credit scene.