Album Review: Warpaint – The Fool [Rough Trade]
Topics that tend to come up when talking about the band Warpaint: 1) Wow, their drummer is really, really good. 2) Shannyn Sossamon used to be in the band, along with her sister Jenny Lee Lindberg, but is no longer in the band. 3) They have an interesting sound, and one you wouldn’t expect from a group of women. Please keep in mind that those are not things I personally have said about Warpaint, but in the handful of conversations I’ve had with people about them, those three topics seem to be universally mentioned. In the last few months, hype surrounding Warpaint has hit a fever pitch, and they became even more buzzed about for their set at Lollapalooza. They played a show the night before opening for The Walkmen that I attended, and having only heard a couple tracks from them beforehand, I walked away moderately impressed. Not nearly as excited as many others have been, but enough that their debut album “The Fool” seemed like it’d make for an interesting listen when it came out. Well, we’ve finally hit release week, and support for the band continues at a steady, if not frenzied pace.
Assuming you’ve caught wind of the Warpaint buzz, perhaps you’re now wondering if all the talk is backed up by a great debut album. A short while ago, the band toured with The xx, and naturally that exposed them to a whole other world of fans that could appreciate the dark and feminine songs they make. Many have tried to define exactly what Warpaint sounds like, and labels like shoegaze and dream pop have been thrown around a lot. The thing is, with a lack of fuzz on the guitars and generally sparse melodies, Warpaint lacks the waves of noise that typically define those genres of music. They have more in common with psychedelia largely thanks to the serpentine way their songs bob and weave for an average length of 4-6 minutes. Another interesting thing about the band is how few chords they use, choosing instead to craft most of their melodies by individual string picking, with bass and drums equally prominent in the mix. The equality of instruments brings all of them into closer focus, making standout performances that much more apparent. Now’s a good time to mention what a prize Warpaint has in drummer Stella Mozgawa, another great female percussionist in a long line of great female percussionists. Drummers aren’t always the most noticeable members of any band, but Mozgawa holds her own court in Warpaint. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the band’s live show, though in dealing exclusively with this album you still get a pretty good idea of what kind of force she is. And while the drumming may get its fair share of attention, all of these women are strong presences in their own rights.
“The Fool” is largely a record based around mystic energies, the sort of telepathical bonds some people share with one another. To many people such concepts are utter loads of crap, but we’ve all experienced those moments of deep connections, whether it’s saying the exact same thing at the exact same time as somebody else or trying to negotiate a small hallway with someone walking straight at you from the opposite direction. Yes, most of these things last but a second, but in Warpaint’s case it’s like these women work through their songs via brain waves. One part compliments another in just the right fashion, and it’s enough to turn these compositions from feeling like they’re drifting without purpose to ones that are intentionally directionless because they’ll find their own path anyways. Call it the natural course of things. Another purpose such a style serves is to create a bit of tension, the lucidity of it all hovering so close to the edge that you’re constantly worried things will come off the tracks suddenly and without warning. There’s a similar sense to the vocals, but that’s far more reliant on tonal inflections that dictate the eerieness of it all. There are lyrics that deserve a very harsh and angry vocal that simply float by in a disaffected manner, and the confounding of expectations is disturbing like a guy quietly sitting in a corner sharpening his knife. There’s no direct indication this guy is going to stab you, but at any second he might just leap to his feet and attack, right when you let your guard down. Songs like “Baby” and “Undertow” rely on these vocal and instrumental combos to creep you out in just the right way, and that’s something both unique and cool about Warpaint.
The thing about “The Fool”, and at this point Warpaint in general, is that as interesting as their sound might be, it can be both draining and lightly boring after awhile. There’s enough variation on the album’s 9 tracks to give each song its own identity, but you’re left wondering how long they can keep such a thing going. Their “Exquisite Corpse” EP mined the same sort of material as well, and with so much tension building and little to no release, listeners are bound to become frustrated with it sooner rather than later. That this isn’t an outwardly pop-oriented record hurts it too, as the lack of song structure and catchy verse/chorus payoff can make for problems when it comes to memorability. Outside of a whole bunch of listens that involve memorizing lyrics, if someone asks you to recall a specific Warpaint song it might prove difficult as your brain might register it as one big amorphous blob. That said, there aren’t enough amorphous blob bands making music these days, and these women have the talent to make it work for them. “The Fool” is a good start, but not quite the incredible surprise of 2010 many hype-peddlers might have been hoping for. At the very least it’s an overly solid introduction to a challenging band that certainly has the potential to one day become the toast of the indie world. For now though, maybe test the waters a little bit with this album should it strike your fancy even a little. Above all else though, should you have the ability, be sure to see them perform live, as they move from an intensity on record to pure transcendence on stage.