If you go to Warpaint’s official website and download the album cover art for their 12-song self-titled sophomore release, you’ll be able to see that the name given to the image is “WarpaintPackshot”. And it’s easy to see why it’s called that if you look at the equal billing the band gives to each member on the new album cover. The same union can be felt in the woozy, lush and romantic free-floating style of the record too. It’s a record created from the bottom up, as the band has said in previous interviews. In other words, unlike their successful 2010 release, “The Fool”, the all-female quartet have taken a more unconventional approach (for them), which is to say, they’re writing songs in more of a traditional fashion. All the band members were involved in the creative process at Joshua Tree, when previously it was the partnership of singer Emily Kokal and bassist Theresa Wayman that led to the band’s first songs.
In fact, the ladies feel so comfortable in their new skin that the band’s first foot forward is a two-minute instrumental simply entitled “Intro”, which begins with the drone of a guitar, and drummer Stella Mozgawa’s yell after a false start. As far as opening a record goes, it’s a subtle way for the band to show that even after their initial critical and commercial successes they’re still simply a pack of regular girls, jamming together garage-style, playing freely until they fall upon the right grooves, hit the right vocal cadences, finding that musical sense of togetherness that fans have come to associate with the live playing of the band. So, it makes sense that the first real track, “Keep It Healthy”, carries on the beautiful interweaving of all the band’s elements: Jenny Lee Lindberg’s bass merging with guitar and percussion, just as in the intro track — while the lead vocals contain verses about “staying true to where one comes from” — a nod to the band itself and the theory of earthly bodies once originating from celestial ones.
The good thing for fans of Warpaint’s first record is that “Warpaint” continues down some familiar paths, while adding new blossoming facets, like the retro thump of “Disco/Very”, the gorgeous Bjork-styled aquatic beats of “Drive”, and the clanking machinery-drip music of the Tom Waits-like “Go In”. The latter works well, matching the cacophonous and dissonant clunk of the instrumentals and warped samples with melodic guitar, intermittent brass sounds and vocal harmonies. A song like “Love Is to Die” features the more recognizably airy lead vocals of Kokal, who when paired with Wayman, sounds like the doomed and beckoning call of the sirens. The departure from the familiar begins with the strangely-named “Hi”, a song that’s as ethereal as works like “Undertow”, but adds a sinister bass beat like something from off a Portishead track. It’s the sound of a confident band expanding its wings. Echo samples blend into sexy incantations, breaking away into wonderful textures and cool disjointed rhythms, creating one of the more impressive songs on the record. “Teese” is a breezy, carefree, steamy song about love amid the moments: “Countless hours / Trying to figure me out / Never seem to come around / Til I got to the part of you that’s me … / You’re so golden / I’m so golden now / I want more now.”
Perhaps the strongest song on the record, “Biggy”, opens with a sinister-sounding bass-synth sound that recalls those wicked 80s grooves Jan Hammer used to create for the drugged-out scenes in the TV show “Miami Vice”. Seriously. It’s a vicious track. An exploration of musical space through the slowly-expanding quietude of icy but flowing lead vocals and stretched out instrumentals. It’s cool, dreamy, ambient, precarious and sensual. Frankly, it’s the sound that’s become distinctly Warpaint’s — and the band knows it too, which you can tell by the fact that they’ve taken to it like a lead single. The lyrics touch on a common theme for this record, which is a focus on nature, sexuality, the spatial elements of sky, heaven, moon, and stars — and a sense of finding balance, music, and ultimately love in the middle of a world of displacement: “And the world on spinning / Dance above the clouds / Hold my world to something / Better make a sound.”
In essence, that’s what this record is — an escape into a cocoon insulated with the soft spaced-out lullabies of Warpaint. That doesn’t just describe the band’s sound, but also what it must feel like to play in a band this instinctual and clear-headed. “Warpaint” isn’t necessarily about the group completely breaking new ground, but rather perfecting, magnifying and adding to what already makes their sound so engrossing. It’s about four very talented ladies finding out that the key to balancing the spheres has much to do with being one integral part of a band called Warpaint and the feeling they generate creating music together. Notes: You can stream the entire Warpaint record at NPR’s First Listen so long as they have it available. You can follow the band at facebook and twitter. All lyrics above are unofficial.