January 17 saw the release of the eagerly awaited sophomore effort from LA psychedelic rock band Warpaint. The eponymous record was a lengthy four years in the making, and sees this band of long-legged Marianne Faithful lookalikes departing in a markedly different direction. Produced by Grammy-winning, alternative rock guru Flood of U2, Nine Inch Nails and New Order fame (aka Mark Ellis), Warpaint was a complete change in recording process for the band. Instead of writing self-contained songs separately, the girls started by just “jamming and free-flowing on stage,” marking the first time they had collectively written tracks “from the ground up.” The process can be felt keenly throughout the album, producing an altogether more spontaneous and unpredictable sound. Tracks flow far more easily into one another than on previous effort The Fool, and the album as a concept benefits greatly as a result.
The first track, imaginatively titled ‘Intro’, immediately sets the darker and more sinister tone present on Warpaint, with Jenny Lee Lindberg’s bass providing the footsteps of doom to this satanic anthem. The intricate, melancholic guitar lines and rumbling rhythm section of follower ‘Keep It Healthy’ prove the perfect backdrop for Emily Kolkal and Theresa Wayman’s lilting, mysterious harmonies to float weightlessly towards the intense climax of taut kick drum and vibrant crescendo. Next up is single ‘Love is to Die’, with its continued swirling haze of mystical guitar effects shrouding Kolkal and Wayman’s elfin voices like fog round a tree-trunk, occasionally allowing a vocal breakthrough to proclaim prophetically that “Love is to die, love is not to die, love is to live,” revealing the emotionally introverted disposition the band has adopted lyrically for this album.
The esoteric chants and hypnotic house-beat of ‘Hi’, followed by the Roxy Music-esque synth riff of ‘Biggy’ effortlessly showcases the minimalist elements that Warpaint embraces at the core of its being, and Mark Ellis’ influence can be keenly felt. Sixth track ‘Tease’ marks the high point of the album. An utterly sublime mix of acoustic guitars, XX motifs and New Order bass lines combines to produce the best song on the record. The chorus of “nananana” even acts as a kind of unconscious Oasis parody, improving upon the Gallaghers’ favourite refrain tenfold.
It is not until the back end of side two that Warpaint lets itself down. ‘Feeling Alright’ is structurally poor and ‘CC’ sounds like the soundtrack to a bad horror film. It is here that the bloated track lengths start to be felt and the less-than committed listener will start to lag; but finale ‘Son’ is the final straw. Combining the worst elements of Coldplay’s mushy piano lines and Kate Bush’s wail at its most irritating, ‘Son’ drifts from cliché to cliché before ending in a damp squib of a fadeout.
Warpaint in essence simply doesn’t have the staying power to achieve perfection from start to finish. The first side-and-a-half magnificently portray a band at the top of their game creatively, standouts ‘Tease’ and ‘Love is to Die’ better anything done previously by the California rockers, but a few tracks listed in the wrong places create a feeling of tiredness as the record draws to a close.