Music is a drug, and there’s nothing like that first high. When you first find something that truly feels new. When your comparisons get too convoluted and you have no choice but to establish a whole new class of narcotic. Warpaint’s self-titled sophomore LP gave me this experience. It’s post-rock… but with trip-hop… but indie, it’s rocking, it’s danceable. It’s all of these things, but not sufficiently defined by any of them.
“Dream pop” is a label often applied to Warpaint, but that sounds a bit too cute. Dreams are common, and benign. As tracks like Go In waltz to the ethereal rhythms that earn the band that label, there’s just a little bit of sickness, coming from disjointed hooks and backmasked guitar leads. It’s not a dream… Maybe to call it a delusion would be more accurate, a delusion natural and fractured. I think of the twisted-up Argentinian tangos that Paul Buckmaster composed for the movie 12 Monkeys, which portrayed a colony of mental patients drooling over travel ads for the Florida Keys. Pardon the obscure reference, but I’m trying to convey with words a very specific and rare mixed state; Beautiful with just a touch of wholly uncontrived dementia. The term “dream pop” just isn’t an adequate enough description.
The album was produced by the band with the help of Flood, well known from his work with early Nine Inch Nails, the Bad Seeds, and PJ Harvey. The resulting journey is a masterfully cohesive one, often beautiful, at times arresting. The key ingredient Warpaint shares with the best post-rock bands is the ability to be strong not necessarily by being loud, to be pretty not necessarily by going quiet. Everything comes from the dynamics architected into the song structures. The ear is led around the intricate melodies, rather than forced through.
With that said, Warpaint does have its cocky moments as well. Disco//very seethes through a dance beat, putting a twist on the sort of fare we get from M.I.A. and Le Tigre, with a groove that falls off its hinges in all the right places. Feeling Right is more cinematic than celebratory, but equally cool with its 90s trip-hop slant.
With each listen, new layers appear, pieces of the soundscape you hadn’t noticed before reveal themselves. And yet, this feature doesn’t come as it usually does, as a side effect to heavy production. On the contrary, the sound from each mechanical instrument is sparse, natural, subtle. Honest. The vocals are a bit hazed in reverb, which is surely by design as well as a little bit of necessity. That’s the indie side of Warpaint; Rough, untrained singing that occasionally squeaks and hollers. But each the four voices are played to their strengths, and it all works in context, for the most part.
One exception perhaps is Love Is To Die, one of the first songs written for the album I believe, which sounds like the kind of performance Lana Del Rey would turn in if she wasn’t so culturally brain-dead. It’s her same sort of tragically beautiful pretty girl poetry, with a relatively straightforward, pop-sensible backing track.
That’s not to say it’s skippable, in fact it might make a great radio single. But it contrasts with several more mature tracks, such as Biggy, in which the vocals weave in and out as a complimentary instrument, rather than a life-support system for notebook poetry. Two minutes into Teese, as the voices settle into La da da da patterns, there’s a breakdown where every string plucked, every percussive tap comes from the lightest possible touch, alone in its section of the sound spectrum. Nothing is hidden behind anything else, and you can sink into the deep, warm bass as Emily Kokal’s voice returns for a direct delivery: I need more now, I want more now…
Perhaps some personal preference comes into play here, but I much prefer an emotion to be perfectly expressed by music, than for a literal story to be told in song form, and that’s what keeps me coming back to Warpaint. It reverberates off of deep-seated experiences, while most bands struggle just to sound cool.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.