It’s not a good sign when far and away the most human moment of a record comes five seconds into it, because one of the musicians screwed something up and the band decided to leave it in the final mix.
That early moment is pretty great, make no mistake. As the album-opening instrumental groove “Intro” first gets going, one of the band members stops and shouts, “Ah! Sorry, I’m going to stand up.” One second later, the groove starts over and they’re off again, tightened up and getting dirty on a simple, spacey, intense motif that does an excellent job preparing the listener for the sexy, moody record to come. It segues beautifully into the intricate opening riff to “Keep It Healthy”, which then seamlessly gives way into “Love is to Die”, the album’s soaring first single.
This momentum continues at a decent clip throughout the record’s first half. Emily Kokal’s singing melds perfectly with the musical palate, and the other band members’ harmonies don’t double or compliment those lead vocals so much as contrast and reflect them before going their own way, rounding out each track as something new and different, each its own special flower. Crisp, tight beats anchor the heady riffage and sunset keys, while a meandering bass cruises around the mix doing fun, cool things, and a good time can easily be had by all.
The opening five tracks would have been enough to keep the album afloat had they been evenly distributed, but there is a marked definition between side 1 and side 2 of this album. The hooky, propulsive opening batch gives way to a lost, lonely, reverb-and-delay-soaked feedback loop. The back end of Warpaint doesn’t so much build on the opening momentum as double back upon it and allow it to vanish into the ether, off into nothing, gone to The Void, replaced by something else not so engrossing.
At times, it sounds like the band is simply amusing itself, like the members of Warpaint gave so much in the production of the songs of the album’s first half that they had nothing left for the second, comfortable to do whatever, enraptured as they expect listeners to be with those first five tracks.
Which, again, are fantastic. The high points here are equivalent to live band fader-shifting or echo-y fem-rock R&B. As on “Biggy”, when they transfer from a head-nodding electronic groove, slowly, but surely into a body-rocking full-band jam that should help audience members find their God live. Layer stacks upon layer, rhythmic runs drop out and come back again, something starts as one thing and ends as another: it’s a remarkable bit of aural architecture.
And that doesn’t happen nearly enough on this record. Much of the charm of Warpaint’s debut LP, The Fool is dispensed with in favor of serious business, pretensions that, at their best, still aren’t as good as what came before, and, at worst, play like little more than spaced-out Animal Collective B-sides. This band has heart and soul and great ideas, but too often here they drench them with gloomy air and frowning space.
For all the talk of love on this record, and the songwriting’s overwhelming focus on its ups and downs, the final artistic statement is one of ambivalent yearning removed from the real world. Amidst so many often-gorgeous spacey mind jams and drone breaks, there simply is not enough elemental humanity to sustain the record over its entirety.
The members of Warpaint have said in promo materials and interviews in the run-up to this release that this record is who and what they are. That this is the music they want to make now, and where they plan to go from here. This space, this drone, this ambient and ethereal presentation. Which is cool, so long as they eventually refine the approach.
As it stands now, too much of what they’ve delivered on Warpaint belongs more to the geography of the mind than of the world. This is a fine headphone record, in other words, one front-loaded to get your attention but unbalanced once it has it. Hopefully next time they give greater acknowledgement to the second aspect of the mind-body dialectic, and remember to keep giving our hips something to do once our mind’s have left the stratosphere.