Precisely capturing the nature of Warpaint's debut album, 'The Fool', is deceptively difficult. The album may follow a rough template of shimmering, psychedelic post-punk/indie with nods to Mazzy Star and Cat Power among others. The result of this may mostly be a sexy, inviting, intoxicating atmosphere. But
beneath this sleek veneer lies a latent, yet very real dark side. 'The Fool' is both
sweet and sinister, alluringly sensual and sporadically menacing, tautly-structured and meanderingly fluid, tender and naked and densely layered. 'The Fool' is all this and more, all at once. Above all, it is deceivingly multi-faceted and all the more fascinating because of this.
So it follows that Warpaint play the long-game with their listeners. This becomes apparent almost instantly. If crafted by less capable hands the unhurried build-up on opener 'Set Your Arms Down' might quickly erode the listener's patience. As it is, its glitchy, fractured drums, sombre bassline, and haunting guitars are compelling. The dark, dreamlike ambiance they create builds gently, though never breaks. Rather than climaxing with clichéd dynamic shifts, it swells and surges before elegantly bowing out. This is a pattern immediately established and repeated, though never exhausted, despite a scarcity of obvious focal points. The all-girl quartet offer little in the way of definite 'hooks', allowing their tracks to beguilingly unfurl, slowly and deliberately, rather than racing to a cheap chorus.
However, there is much about 'The Fool' that does
offer immediate gratification. Taken as a whole, it is impossible not to admire the slick production and rich timbres here. The guitars sound sophisticatedly sleek, enabling Theresa Wayman (“There's a way, man”) and Emily Kokal's guitars and Jenny Lee Lindberg's bass to dance in and out of another coquettishly, or else combine to form dark, dense or warm, blanket-like layers. The result of this is an irresistible sonic sensuality. Stella Mozgawa's drums rein in and direct the quartet's free-floating nature and sound so crisp you can feel
every snare hit, precise cymbal tap, or delicate ghost note. Each member’s high-quality performance is crucial in their pursuit of a nuanced sound here: they are capable of sounding sexy and exotic, as well as ominous and gloomy.
Warpaint's playfulness is also readily apparent sporadically throughout ‘The Fool’. "Buzzing” is perhaps the best word to describe Lindberg's bassline in the appropriately named 'Bees'
, for instance. The line, "What's the matter? You hurt yourself?" in 'Undertow'
phonetically mimics the same lines from Nirvana's 'Polly'; Kokal's dreamy sigh of "How I love you" in acoustic standout 'Baby'
similarly borrows from The Beatles' 'Long, Long, Long'. Their conjuring of legendary artists before them is so blatant one can't help but admire the sheer cheek of it, as well as how natural it all feels. Warpaint select what they need, rework it appropriately, and move on. This effortlessness and stream of consciousness that pervades the album, as well as its hypnotic nature makes it a great album to get lost in. However, this aspect of it perhaps runs contrary to the layered depth of 'The Fool', which requires greater attentiveness.
After all, some of the best parts of ‘The Fool’ are when Warpaint’s intentions are more ambiguous. Even with 'Baby'
s naked fragility there is a lingering temptation to read a line "don't you call anybody else baby/because I'm your baby still" as a barely-veiled threat rather than an earnest, impassioned plea. The band’s eponymous track begins with talk of “knives”, “wars”, and “world(s)… bursting open”, as a psychedelic storm cloud gathers, yet when it opens it is wholly cathartic. The track initially threatens violent darkness, but instead reaches a comforting lightness. This coexistence between light and dark, between a ten-mile stare and lean-in intimacy pervades the album and makes for an intriguing and captivating listen.
On their debut album, Warpaint eschew more accessible, simplistic approaches to song-writing, and the results are all the more rewarding for this. 'The Fool's coy conservatism creates a sense of mystique and evokes intrigue throughout the album. Lyrical passages can be interpreted in several ways, tantric song progressions tease at every turn, sweet melodies are buried all over the place. All this makes for a thought-provoking listen and ensures ‘The Fool’ offers much more beyond the sensory thrill that comes with the first few listens – and still comes with subsequent airings for that matter.