Review Summary: An invigorating start to the year.
Maturity is overpriced. The cost of responsibility: to abdicate the lustrous throne of childhood, to renounce the forgiving pedestal to which our parents have appointed us in favor of the agonizing burdens of autonomy is taxing enough as even a mere wisp of a thought. The dilatory late teen/twenty-somethings like me clench tight at the unraveling thread of childhood as gruff undercurrents paint our voices and mustachioed adulthood our faces, relieving us of our last days of cherubic youth. We frantically look for defenses of our sluggishness, and to preserve the waning veneer of dignity, we casually deride our dogged peers who do what we can’t do – make the horrifying transition into the next portion of their lives. And yet we feel pride for them, and perhaps even a little jealousy. Probably a little jealousy. It’s a band like Warpaint who awakens this envy in me; in no more than five short years have they gone through what seems like the full circle of life. Their upstart EP Exquisite Corpse
made it clear from the get-go that the California four-piece were already masters of atmospherics and hazy, heavy-eyelidded dream pop, but there were still bashful moments and endearing elements to their music, like the understated charm of the almost imperceptible spelling hook of “Billie Holliday”, the album’s smattering of subtle nods to influences and favorites, and the cooed “fuck it, where’s my shit” on “Beetles” that’s cute and fun in the same way that YouTube videos of toddlers saying “firetruck” are. The group’s debut album The Fool
was a more textured, dark affair, displaying a more pronounced emphasis on atmosphere and succinct songwriting, neglecting tedious tropes and leaving filler mostly amiss – it sounded more like the work of seasoned musicians radiating in the peaks of their established careers than a debut album. There was a noticeable evolution in songwriting from the EP to The Fool
, so the next logical progression was to uncoil the foliage from the trellis, liberate the velvety petals from within, and allow the elegant spectrum of flowers to fully blossom on Warpaint
. And although a misleading first listen might suggest otherwise, on further listens, the eponymous album reveals itself as Warpaint’s most nuanced and luminous release yet.
The effortless transition from the stunning intro track into the equally dazzling “Keep It Healthy” sets the tone for the album with its delicate textures, frothy guitars, and Emily Kokal’s signature blasé crooning. Humdrum drums hum in the background, but they’re more hypnotic than listless, foretelling of the percussion’s refreshing import as a consistent theme of the album. The song (and actually, this album as a whole) is an interesting departure from The Fool
’s overcast buzzing, almost harking back a bit to Exquisite Corpse
, but insistent on preserving the arresting, remarkable finesse that the group has cultivated in their brief tenure. “Teese” is a lilting lullaby, lacquered in a lusty air and backed by feverish percussion while keys bubble gingerly and creamy vocal layering showcases the delicate harmonies that Warpaint does oh so well. “Son” is garnished heavily with the influence of Radiohead, opening with somber piano chords and constantly evolving with more sublime vocal layers, transcendentally ethereal and categorically chilling. Warpaint’s brand of dreamy, textured pop is done so well that it’s almost hard to point out the chinks in their armor, but of note is that despite their continued growth, they’ve consistently remained in a sort of low-hanging musical purgatory of always releasing great material with merely flashes of the sublime, never conquering the threshold separating them from making truly meaningful, gorgeous music. Despite their immense efforts and successes, all three of their releases loiter around the 3.5 area, suggesting a low ceiling given their undeniable talent and musical acuity, but I’d hate to pigeonhole them as a group forever engaged in a Sisyphean dance, consistently repeating their efforts with no room for advancement or revamp. Because the truth is, Warpaint has always been, if nothing else, a display of equal parts potential and prowess, but unfortunately even with their proven recipe for success, there are some shortcomings.
I think the most glaring fault in Warpaint’s sound is that songs rarely climax, making their music sometimes feel aimless. The girls occasionally swell in crescendo, but these glints of intensification are short lived, as the music quickly deflates almost lifelessly (see: “Go In”, where synths slowly surge until dissipating, flatly and disheartened). Sometimes instead of reaching an apex, Warpaint transitions into a glossy coda (the movement on album highlight “Hi” is particularly resplendent), which keeps things lithe and interesting enough, but unfortunately these progressions aren’t recurrent enough to be particularly conspicuous. Another misgiving of the group is that sometimes the jaded, lounging nature of the songs cause them to blend together a bit, because their differences can be so finely nuanced. Warpaint tries to remedy this with “Disco/Very,” an up-tempo din of funky bass, driving drums, and raucous, subaqueous gang vocals buried in the heart of the album. But the problem even with this change of pace is that the lyrical quality of the song is such an out-of-place death threat that it’s almost outlandish and absurd, and the delivery reeks too much of tryhard menace that it comes off a little tacky. The musical ideas contained in the track though are welcome additions to the Warpaint repertoire, and show that the group is versatile enough to work different styles into their trademark dream pop-cum-indie rock. The fact of the matter is Warpaint is a group of savvy musicians, masters of mood and ambience, and consistently developing. Warpaint
is a wonderfully elegant start to the year, and a great entry in an already strong catalog, with only minor faults; hopefully their next album continues the trend of growth and finds Warpaint crafting a modern classic.