Review Summary: I wanna pretend that Jenny Lee Lindberg is my girlfriend
If there’s one thing to be said of Warpaint’s debut EP, ‘Exquisite Corpse’, it is this: The whole thing oozes sex, seduction, and a drug-like haze. In fact, at times it can seem that everything is designed this way – but never overwhelmingly so, as the EP generally feels very
spontaneous. Firstly, it is impossibly smooth, slick almost; though instead of feeling overly polished and manufactured, it feels wholly organic. Secondly, the breathy vocals of Emily Kokal (lead vocalist) and Theresa Wayman (back-ups, lead on ‘Beetles’
) are siren-like, entrancing and inviting throughout. They are ably supported, (or should that be surrounded
"), by stunning instrumentation – individually brilliant, and collectively hypnotic.
Shimmering guitar melodies characterised by hammer-ons and gentle arpeggios flow in and out of another like water, simultaneously marrying tendencies from shoegaze, post-rock and psychedelica – sometimes in the space of one song (‘Elephants’
). All of this is masterfully underpinned by the elegant bass lines penned by Jenny Lee Lindberg, often melodies themselves, as opposed to simple root-note progressions. The relationship between the guitars, and between guitars and bass is, at times, sensually breath-taking, and goes a long way to defining the album’s sound and feel. This tentative, but no less effective interplay between the two is especially gorgeous on the ‘How Strange, Innocence’-era Explosions in the Sky flavoured ‘Stars’
. The rhythm section is completed by Jenny's sister, Shannyn Sossamon, a competent
drummer (Warpaint’s rhythm section would exponentially improve after the arrival of Stella Mozgawa after ‘Exquisite Corpse’s release), but an effective one nonetheless. For example, it is her drumming which facilitates a mesmerising mood change in the EP’s opener.
Ultimately, the EP is not without its downfalls however, and they tend to revolve around the album’s hazy, seductive manner. At times, ‘Exquisite Corpse’ is simply too smooth for its own good. All too often its fluidity gives way to meandering, almost directionless song structures which frustrate as much as they fascinate. This uneasy truth is not helped by the near-total absence (the childlike, charming ‘Billie Holiday’
aside) of any discernible ‘hooks’ - though it does have an uncanny way of softly working its way under your skin. Furthermore, any deviation from their template of sleek, glorious psychedelic-indie more often than not impacts negatively on the EP. Awkward, abrupt (some would say lazy) transitions in ‘Elephants’
spoil the flow of the EP – though it could be argued that such sudden shifts are effective in momentarily snapping the listener out of their reverie, particularly in the former. ‘Elephants’
, though still the most accessible track to be found here, also uses an inexplicably large amount of compression and distortion on Kokal’s vocals which negate their usual suggestive demeanour.
All in all, ‘Exquisite Corpse’ is a very accomplished EP – especially for a debut. Much like the childhood game it takes its title from – where you fold a piece of paper into sections, take turns to draw body parts and then unfold to reveal the final work – it feels intensely impulsive, and herein lies its greatest strength and most fatal flaw. ‘Exquisite Corpse’s unpredictability continually makes for a refreshing listen, and is great to get lost into. However, it feels wholly unstructured and inferior to its successor, ‘The Fool’, where they were
able to sufficiently rein in their creativity. Nevertheless, ‘Exquisite Corpse’ is still a work of startling beauty, and as a template of what’s to come, it is a very promising debut.