In the four years since all-girl indie-rock outfit Warpaint released their debut album The Fool, they’ve experienced a slow burn of increasing popularity not entirely unlike their atmospheric musical style. By putting the music out there and letting it simmer, they’ve gone from being a name known only to the most dedicated of underground indie-ers to being the band the whole indie scene seems to be watching for cues—and with good reason. With entrancing sonorities and brooding lyricism, Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman, Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgowa have collectively mastered the art of subtlety and understatement in the art-rock genre, epitomizing what many consider the spirit of indie rock to be.
Needless to say, their eponymous sophomore album has been met with much anticipation, and with its release this week, Warpaint is certain to give the band’s growing fan base more of what they love about them. While there are some differences between this album and their earlier work (for example, more trip-hop influences, more collaborative songwriting, and a bit more spit-and-polish thanks to production and mixing by Flood and Nigel Godrich), the girls have wisely stayed true to the overall vibe that gave them their voice in the indie-rock genre.
That being said, the band’s name might seem a bit of an anomaly to the uninitiated. A name like Warpaint for someone who has never heard them is likely to conjure tribal images of angry women with spears in hand running through the Amazon. Instead, while the band makes no secret of drawing upon their sometimes-clashing personalities for inspiration, the end result sounds almost nothing like war. It is dreamscape-y, murky, brooding, simmering, carrying nuanced seduction with just a hint of warning. Women applying warpaint without actually going to war—but don’t mess with them, just the same. (And shame on you for that Amazon women stereotype thing.)
Indeed, the above description could apply to just about every song on this album; they are not all identical by any means, but they all carry this brooding vibe of subtle danger without boiling over, even while entrancing the listener like the Sirens of Odysseus. The only time on Warpaint where the girls seem to brandish their weapons is on the track “Disco//very,” incidentally one of the most interesting tracks on the record, where the girls alternately sing, chant, and whoop, teeth bared: “Don’t you battle, we’ll kill you / We’ll rip you up and tear you in two.” But even here, the music takes on an almost hypnotic quality as it progresses, lulling the listener into a sense of reverie: “Okay, tear us in two.” We awake unscathed.
Warpaint’s understated simmering style will be no doubt fodder for some critics who deem them as lacking in interest or energy, but in my opinion these are missing the point. The musicality of this band is a perfect fit for their audience, an audience who often eschew on-the-nose lyrics and overstated structures, and who instead thrive on subtlety. The music of Warpaint is not simply to be listened to, or danced to, but rather experienced. With this new record, they have taken the best aspects of their sound, polished them, and given them clarity. Listen, experience, be taken in—but beware.
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