Tuesday, October 26

Record Review: Warpaint [The Fool, Rough Trade]

by Sebastian Ruan

Los Angeles’s Warpaint, fronted by Emily Kokal, is a subtle, semi-psych rock band whose compositions are lengthy, but sound. Following up their 2009 Exquisite Corpse EP, The Fool is a wonderful debut LP from an all-female group who know their indie-rock roots well. With familiar chord progressions, eerie interludes, and a hint at a future in the electronic genres, this rock outfit sure pushes itself to be the next big band.

The first track, “Set Your Arms Down” opens with a simple riff [reminiscent of Tool’s Undertow (what do you know, that’s the name of one of their songs)], and a clichĂ© message, but what it lacks in depth, it makes up for in style. By which I mean that we get a sense of how each member is an integral part of a whole: Kokal’s wavy and soothing vocals over Jenny Lee Lindberg’s confined bass lines and Stella Mozgawa’s controlled but tense percussion, while lead guitarist and back-up vocalist Theresa Wayman adds her reverb-laden licks throughout. What struck me about their compositions is how fun it would be to play these tracks with a cover band or better yet, see them perform live; everyone doing something different with a rhythm you can instantly rock out to while listening to those lush lyrics of heartbreak, self-control, and nature/natural occurrences.

The highlights in the album don’t do justice to the record as a whole, but they are easy to get behind. First we have “Undertow,” with the album’s poppiest introduction that doesn’t last that long. Once the chorus hits, you hear this band at its best (they start having fun with it after the second chorus). Kokal’s chorus in “Undertow” is the most accessible in the album: “Why do you wanna blame me for your troubles? / Uh uh uh, you better learn your lesson for yourself. / Nobody ever has to find out / what’s in my mind tonight.” It’s no wonder it’s the first song off their album with a music video, it’s the only song with an audibly clear chorus and lyrics not only understood but relatable.

Hopefully “Shadows” is their next single because that song just completely grabs me. Maybe because it’s the first aggressive song on the album with extremely intense snare slams and that eerily out-of-tune acoustic guitar strumming away like it’s got somewhere to go. Or maybe it’s that it is the shortest and the only to-the-point track on the album (the others linger to allow the riffs to evolve or the lyrics to come into coherence). The only lengthy song I enjoyed thoroughly was the last one, “Lissie’s Heart Murmur;” it includes an intro they subtly ripped off of Arcade Fire’s Funeral closer, “In The Backseat,” and a drummer who does not mind one bit whackin’ those crashes and symbols, I can’t help but love that they decided to close out their slow-burning debut with a song that explodes with ‘umph.

Everyone has their slow start: Wilco had their A.M. before blowing us all away with their classic Being There (and on to the unforgettable Yankee Foxtrot Hotel); Sufjan Stevens had his ‘meh debut, A Sun Came! before unleashing the incredibly accessible concept album, Illnois; hell, Radiohead gave the world Pablo Honey before they actually got into their groove and released a slew of amazing albums (8th one coming soon!). Warpaint’s The Fool may seem like a fantastic debut album (and don’t get me wrong, it is), but it feels more like a precursor to a whole discography of epics. In the meantime, I hope Kokal and her experimental art-rock group keep their composure for a follow-up that it is sure to knock us all on our asses.

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