Release Date: Sep 23, 2016
Record label: Rough Trade
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Los Angeles quartet Warpaint have returned with a third studio album, Heads Up, displaying their strength as a group after a gruelling tour schedule and near breakup in support of 2014's Warpaint caused them to rethink their approach. Often working separately as they balanced various side projects, the recording sessions for Heads Up have resulted in an eclectic, nuanced collection of songs. Lead single "New Song" shows the band leaning in a pop direction with an infectious hook and taut bass, while the dark production of "By Your Side" (akin to PJ Harvey's work with Flood on Is This Desire?) feels empowering and unified: "Now I know, I'm not alone.
Not to overemphasize labels, but whenever I hear Warpaint described as “dream pop” I am slightly taken aback. True, the band has a ghostly aura and uses a lot of reverb, suggesting an affinity for the spirit realm, but there is something about them that is quite physical as well, far too physical for dream pop. Warpaint’s music is raw, somewhat wild and unkempt, almost vicious at times and they sound like women who have been exiled for years in the wilderness.
Warpaint return with their third LP having made some minor adjustments to a blueprint they’d be foolish to ever fully dispense with. The LA-based four-piece have spent time working on other projects since their excellent self-titled record, and when Heads Up’s first single New Song dropped, fans of Warpaint may well have received bit of a fright at its unashamed pop leanings. Although the immediacy of New Song is an anomaly in the context of another captivating array of intricate, seductive and sultry grooves, there is definitely a change in the texture of their amethystine soundscapes.
Warpaint, Los Angeles-based mistresses of the art-rock slow jam, have made a sideways swerve on their third album. Feeling hemmed in by their heavily overdubbed sound, their intention here was to capture their live show’s propulsiveness, which they have done, to an extent: the single New Song and the title track are by some way the most immediate things they have yet recorded. Get past the wind chimes-and-piano chorale that opens the latter, in fact, and you’re in powerpop territory; elsewhere, the churning electronic rhythms that power Whiteout and So Good could, at a pinch, be described as baggy.
Thanks to the success of their self-titled second album, Warpaint spent almost a year and a half on the road -- a situation that could make any band's members sick of their songs, and perhaps each other. After finishing their tour, the women of Warpaint took some time to pursue different projects: Jenny Lee Lindberg issued her solo debut, Right On!; Theresa Wayman founded BOSS with Hot Chip's Sarah Jones and All We Are's Guro Gikling; Stella Mozgawa played with Kurt Vile on tour and in the studio; and Emily Kokal collaborated with Paul Bergmann. When it was time to reunite, the band had months to make an album instead of the years it took to record Warpaint.
Warpaint’s third album is fixated on fun. Pushing their luck at times - wonderfully so - the LA group even manage to make “you got the moves, bang bang baby” (a so-dreadful-it’s-kind-of-genius lyric that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Pitbull club banger) sound entirely palatable. No mean feat. This record is, at its heart, a sum of all the vital ingredients that cook up into the magic of Warpaint.
Whereas most albums take a little time to warm up and stretch their limbs, the opening salvo of “Whiteout” and “By Your Side” is an immediate leap into Heads Up. The two aren’t far off from Warpaint’s older work: Shadowy atmospherics set the scene as bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg and drummer Stella Mozgawa swing into heady rhythms, while vocalists Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman stealthily harmonize. However, by the time “By Your Side” comes to an end with frantic synths, looped vocals, and a heavily distorted, apocalypse-worthy bass drum, one thing is readily apparent: Heads Up is the sound of a fully confident and mature band that has no qualms challenging themselves.
Fans of Warpaint may have shit their pants when they first heard the band’s new song and new single, 'New Song', with its bold trip-pop leanings, somewhat simplified lyricism, and repetitive chorus. Although it's true Warpaint have tweaked their sound for the funky-in-spots-poetics of Heads Up, it’s not the seismic, blasphemous shift into radio-glory-land the single would suggest. The band is working comfortably on the outskirts of what qualifies as mainstream.
There’s a difference between sleepy-eyed music and music that just puts you to sleep. If Warpaint have made a career out of walking the fine line between the two, your enjoyment of the band naturally depends on which side of that line you see them. Does the L.A. quartet’s anesthetizing approach to downtempo rock create tension out of restraint or does it simply lack enough friction to generate heat? Heads Up, the band’s third full-length, probably won’t change whatever opinion you already have.
L. A. 's Warpaint deliver their dream-rock mysticism with such chill confidence and casual concision you almost miss all the different sounds they pull together: There are filaments of So Cal shamanism from the Doors to Jane's Addiction, the drolly quaking minimalist groove architecture of the XX, the billowy-sleeve, love-hound romanticism of Kate Bush, gothic garage rock, winter-sun post-punk.
"Whiteout," the first track from Warpaint's new album, starts with a simple bass-and-snare drumbeat, gradually adding a persistent guitar arpeggio, then cymbals, bass, and vocals. It quickly establishes a vibe, and then builds on it over the course of five minutes. Lyrically, the song is worried and slightly paranoid, but it matches the music so well that it seems in just five minutes Warpaint has really hit their stride.
Grabbing the listener by the lapels has never seemed an overriding preoccupation for LA’s Warpaint. They have preferred to court attention in circuitous, free-form ways. On their two brooding albums, the foursome have leaned heavily on grooves and moods, on diaphanous wafting over low-slung basslines, to seal their reputation. Actual tunes have been at something of a premium.
Whiteout, the stealthily beguiling opening track to Warpaint’s Heads Up, reassures the listener that the band’s third album won’t be as bad as its first single suggested. New Song left plenty of fans uneasy – the polished, no, simonised vocals over a generic dancepop beat and progression rubbed the wrong way; the unintended irony of the title slapped over empty lyrics from a band that appeared eight years ago with a debut EP and an already inimitable style. In fact, the band deserves credit for expanding their sonic palette through synths, electronic drums and other production booth chicanery, and for exploring what they call a more “mature” Warpaint sound.
In late 2013, distaff indierockers Warpaint, a L.A.-based quartet, broke out of the pack with their self-titled album, a masterpiece of atmosphere and grooves. As produced by Flood, it had a sensuality hard to deny, and it wound up on more than a few year-end best-of lists. (Go HERE to read our review.) Now comes Heads Up after a lengthy delay; there have been a few “teases” here and there, including a couple of digital singles, but it’s still curious that the ladies allowed their momentum to dissipate.
In interviews, the group have said they wanted to make the album more representative of the excitement of their live shows. To do so, they’ve brought their dancier influences to the fore, stripping away a lot of the hazy, brooding atmospherics they used to cloak their songs in and ending up with a sound that’s 10 times more immediate. ‘So Good’ bounces along on Lindberg’s elastic bassline and the minimal ‘By Your Side’ is an ode to female friendship that has them singing “Got my girls, I’m not alone” to drummer Stella Mozgawa’s twitchy, hip-hop-inspired beat.Like their self-titled album’s ‘Biggy’, ‘Heads Up’ also makes reference to an iconic hip-hop star.
A few tracks in and…“Cool, let’s try it”, says a voice in a marshmallow-fluff drawl, followed quick and sure by a drumbeat. And it sums this record up completely. Back for their third full-length album Heads Up, Warpaint’s Emily, Theresa, Jenny and Stella have returned to what they love, but needed space from, more determined not through habit.
"Heads Up" is the latest from Warpaint (Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman, Stella Mozgawa and Jenny Lee Lindberg). Warpaint's unerring feel for gauzy hooks and slinky arrangements germinated over a decade and flourished on the quartet's excellent 2014 self-titled album. But the band has always nudged its arrangements onto the dance floor — subtly on record, more overtly on stage — and "Heads Up" (Rough Trade) gives the group's inner disco ball a few extra spins.
The third album in a group’s discography is almost as tricky to navigate as the second. Even if it may not have a trendy descriptor like the sophomore slump, there are certain expectations once a band has reached three records. Apathy could be setting in. Maybe comfortability and familiarity have taken priority over novelty and creativity.
It has been a few months shy of three years since Warpaint released their eponymous sophomore album, and six years since their debut, The Fool. The gestation period for their latest record, Heads Up, is nearly half of what it took Warpaint to make their last album, so perhaps one can assume the band is getting comfortable in its own skin. And while the album’s announcement was somewhat soured by allegations of promotional plagiarism, the stylishly packed four piece have produced higher expectations for themselves than ever before.