or Warpaint’s opener, it’s switchblades preferred. Their debut LP, “The Fool”, begins with Emily Kokal’s ghostly vocal sighing on “Set Your Arms Down”, a song that embodies the dueling sides of the record — one sweet with love, the other looking to scrap in a back-alley. “Set Your Arms Down” is about walking through fire for passion and settling a fight: “Out on the back porch / You say tonight / We bring our pocket … / Our pocket knives / You want to fight me / You want to fight.” This new record comes with a lot of hype, big expectations and a roster that put an immediately spotlight on the band — bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg is the sister of famed actress and former band member Shannyn Sossamon. It also comes with the attention generated by Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante’s work on the band’s 2008 EP, “Exquisite Corpse”. Oh, and the quality of the music sent the blogosphere into Warpaint euphoria. The band unleashed “Stars”, “Beetles” and a highly-stylized, windblown video for their siren-song, “Elephants”. This time around the band enlists the help of producer Tom Biller, who has worked with Beck and Liars.
Warpaint hits the ground running, sounding like a band that already knows who it is. But maybe we should have guessed that from the first single released off the record, “Undertow”, with its hazy harmonies, jumpy bass, and dream-pink vocal blending. It’s the girlie b-side to Nirvana’s “Polly”: “What’s a matter? / You hurt yourself? / Open your eyes and there was someone else / Now I’ve got you in the undertow / Now I’ve got you so … / Why you wanna blame me for your troubles? / You better learn your lesson yourself / Nobody ever has to find out, what’s in my mind tonight.” The band may be tightly focused on what kind of music they want to make, but there’s still an organic feel to how the songs develop. “Shadow” opens with a steely acoustic guitar and dreamy vocals that build tension for nearly a minute-and-a-half before a heavy bass kicks in. Then the song sprawls out. The vocals echo and repeat. The volume is raised. Hand-claps join in. The song folds back on itself and rejoins the intro, before a seductive synth piano enters at the 3:22 mark, where the song becomes heavenly. This is one of the album’s best tracks, next to “Undertow” and the ambrosial “Lissie’s Heart Mumur”.
“The Fool” is an album with many soft confrontations. Lyrically, it’s accusatory, teetering, on edge. But it’s also an album about innocence and love. The rough parts of the record are softened with wispy vocals, minor chords, narcotized sensuality, and mellifluousness like a prettier, down-tempo Luscious Jackson. The ethereal nature of “The Fool” should be listed as an instrument in the album liner notes. It’s just as tangible an accompaniment as the guitar or bass. But the record also has its dissonant, offbeat elements — maybe a bit too thought-through — but still enchanting. “Bees” starts with a thumping loop, electronic percussion, faded-in guitar, and reverbed lead vocals. A live drum kit hides behind the other instrumentation, before guitar flares up and we get these lyrics about running out of time, “In all that time it took you to get yourself straight / It’s too late …” It’s gorgeous lead guitar work, cascading in unexpected ways, weaving itself in and out of echoed grooves. “Composure” features a choir of children singing background harmony before the song jumps into a funky bass beat. “Baby” is the album’s change-of-pace, and a slightly weak track, sounding like a cotton-candy version of Hope Sandoval, when weighed against the album’s better cuts.
The second half of the album slows down into a dream waltz, with a sullen tone bleeding messily and yet prettily from one track to the next. “Lissie’s Heart Mumur” is a darkly beautiful piano-ballad, hypnotic in its oceanic sway. It’s about giving yourself completely to something, whether it be music or love. It’s about diving into the water and sinking to the point of no return. It’s about devotion and the plunge: “On the edge of the water / Where the ships pass by, / And the sound of your laughter / And the endless sky / Tips my head back / Full of swimming … / We sink so far down / We can’t go back now.” Let it be said, this record isn’t some quaint venture made by four rich, hot L.A. chicks. The music is substantial, multi-layered, with complex song-transitions and sophisticated textures. The lyrics are ambiguous enough to be interesting, and colloquial enough to make you care. It’s an album that does justice to the more than lofty expectations game. “The Fool” is a record for both lover and fighter. Note: The band is Kokal (vocals/guitar), Theresa Wayman (vocals/guitar), Lindberg (bassist/vocals), and Stella Mozgawa (drums/keyboards). The above lyrics are unofficial. Artwork by David D. Robbins Jr. uses a screen capture of Wayman from the official “Elephants” video.