It’s been more than 3 years since Warpaint released debut album The Fool and lulled music critics into a hyperbolic frenzy, as buzz bands tend to inspire loquacious praises among us before the inevitable backlash. With words like ‘vital’, ‘potent’, important’, and ‘reinvigorating’ bandied about in post release blurbs, and the length that it took for their sophomore eponymous LP to come out, you would think that’d be the case here. Not so much in reality. Core members Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman & Jenny Lee Lindberg, and newer bandmate Stella Mozgawa are more than aware of the sophomore slump trope in the great one album wonders of rock canon – and they fully intend to subvert that expectation.
Roping in Flood, the post punk producer with names like Sigur Rós, Nine Inch Nails, New Order, and more to his credentials, Warpaint’s sophomore exudes a sound that’s decidedly disparate from The Flood. Like a lot of millennial bands, hip hop (and electronic genres indebted to hip hop production) has seeped into their ethereal, shoegaze-y brand of indie rock. Something lead vocalist Emily admitted as much just a year into recording the album; “… [sounds] that have drum machines and ambience, music that’s more than standard rock.”
After the dreamy psychedelic instrumental of ‘Intro’ and Warpaint-standard ‘Keep it Healthy’, the ‘drum machine sounds’ Emily referred to make its first appearance on the almost alt r’n’b ‘Love is to Die’ (their words are as new-wave-goth-prosaic as ever). Theresa’s vocals, given poppier grounds and woozy rhythms, have the whispery sexiness of Aaliyah; ”Love is to die, love is to not die, love is to live,” accompanied by her ooos and oohs, sound more alluring than broody. Gone is the Sub Pop-esque contemplative slackerdom of their debut, replaced by a melange of past influences and new stimuli.
Ensuring that the new-fangled direction won’t let up after a single track, the consequent ‘Hi’ could very well be made by KL’s own +2dB, right down to the vocal reverbs, had they utilised some live instruments. It’s got the same sort of gothic witch house beat and r’n’b allure that have been the sound of post millennial acts for some time now. ‘Biggy’ follows that up with an even further left turn, channelling The Knife and churning out something that’s more Lykke Li in the process without sacrificing anything that made them Warpaint. But the band knows when to dial down the witching hour horniness, ‘Tesse’ is still very much keys-based (a constant on the album that differentiates it from The Fool), but the synthy ambience are subtler, reverberating in the background while Emily’s balladry takes centre stage.
‘Disco//very’ attempts what sounds like a funky r’n’b hate jam more suited for pop acts. It doesn’t work that well to our ears, and might just be the only jarring track on the otherwise cohesive – albeit diverse – album. It does however get us thinking that Warpaint is Haim from an alternate reality, make of that what you will. What comes next – ‘Go In’, ‘Feeling Alright’, ‘CC’ – can be best described as a slow descent lulling you back into The Fool-era Warpaint slow jams; lush and expansive moody pieces that are almost operatic in execution (‘CC’ being this half of the album’s centrepiece).
Sadly the album’s seemingly dual direction fails to intertwine into a meaningful convergence point. Shame, it could have culminated with the most emotive song of the album (more than the grandiose end track ‘Son’), the penultimate ‘Drive’, a song that sees the band finding digital soul in the direction they’ve taken. There’s a lingering feeling after that Warpaint could have had positioned the order of their tracklist better, an art we feel some acts ignore. A minor complaint though, we already reshuffled their tracklisting in our head.
LISTEN TO: ‘Drive’, ‘Love is to Die’
IF YOU LIKE THIS YOU’LL DIG: Melody’s Echo Chamber
2. Keep It Healthy
3. Love is to Die
8. Go In
9. Feeling Alright
Brought to you by Soundscape Records, Warpaint is set to play at Bentley Music Auditorium, Damansara on Wednesday 12 February ’14.