Warpaint – The Fool (Rough Trade – 2010)

Records like this are part of the reason I wanted to be involved with a project like this blog.  All girl super hipster indie cross over dance krautbeat reverb retro who are met with critical praise and Later appearances around the time journos realise it’s in their best interests to get some good words published ahead of their London show where guest list spaces will be tighter than metaphor removed, metaphor removed.  Normally this type of broad sheet acclaim is a reason avoid such records, they’ll have a limited repeat value, perhaps an instant charm, but one that fades with the album cycle.  By the time the second album comes out you know that you’d just gotten caught up in something, wrapped up in hype.  You won’t buy it.  You’ll never listen to them.  You’d been CSSed again.

Perhaps one of the most telling signs of this album’s slightly unexpected nature can be found in the thanks.  First up is John Frusciante, one member’s former boyfriend and champion of the band.  While his career may seem to many as being (simply) teenage obscurity, Chili Peppers, Chili Peppers and drugs, just drugs, no drugs, Chili Peppers, no Chili Peppers.  Though the shy for a super star Frusciante may not have seen perception this fit to challenge, his aptitude for experimentation and psychedelia, though present in his former day job, were certainly diluted.  He talked in interviews following his addictions of having to be extremely detached from the world so as not derail his recovery, his friends shielding him to the point it was months after terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers that he knew of their occurrence.  Perhaps holed up on a mountain searching for ‘inner peace’ or ‘truth’ this could be understood, for an LA resident it is telling.  It is in his wide eyed psychedelic state that you experience Warpaint.  It forces naivety.  It has an ‘energy’.  It has a ‘spirituality’.  Where land and water collide.  This could’ve been the album after ‘A Storm In Heaven’ and before ‘A Northern Soul’ if it hadn’t been for acoustic guitars and a legal wrangle resulting in the addition of a ‘The’.  Structure is instinctive, styles seem hazily remembered, parts too stoned or blissed out to need to be changed, only betrayed by craft and imagination, this is too well played for it not to be written and rehearsed, the voice moves from a mumble to strain too well, it is too responsive for it to be simply guided by impulse.  This is the sound of four people in a room, but rawness is not the desire, these four people have drilled their style to point of maximum soft impact.   While any comparisons of anyone to Liz Fraser now outstrip actual Cocteau Twins albums sold, the vocal style and range ploughs through atmosphere hinted at in Fraser’s ‘Song to the Siren’ for This Mortal Coil.  That lushness, that fragility, 45 minutes of it.  That individuality is harmonised with pop; LA lives in this voice, in low notes Bangles smooth and Stevie Nicks threatening to breakthrough on the highs.  Adding to this tempered drama.

Musically this is an album about the stop.  About the start. The gap.  How it will be. Respected.  How. It. Will. Be. Interrupted. Simplicity. Interlock. Bass counts in eights, guitars in fours, nothing new, it’s just done well.  The ride cymbal is the only thing that changes but in doing so the whole shape of the room changes, it gets smaller, it gets tighter.  For all their LA hipness it feels as though they must have spent any time in Laurel Canyon listening to Wire over CSN&Y and Zappa. There’s the quiet brutality, the way that you have to have been playing for years to play anything that basic, with a scratchy quality, captured mistakes against the deliberate nature, the basic groove, looped, looped again.  The repeat that part, repeat that part, strip the part back, just play that, bring it back and stay there and let it fall out nature of Hearbeat.  The anti-solo of Lowdown.  It haunts here.  Heavily effected twin one stringed guitar melodies glance at the bass line occasionally enough to create a chord, eerily reminiscent of The XX’s starkness, instruments are parts of the whole, the ego lead lines and supporting players have no currency.  Again like The XX, Warpaint are against the mastering war.  Quiet, lulling, reserved, meaning any step up is felt, it has meaning, peaks spread across a record.

An album of quiet wows it’s perhaps the aspect of LA’s folk heritage where this album falls, the few brief moments of acousitica seem well trodden compared what bookends it. Lyrically it is also vague enough to be have that LA ‘spirituality’, that ‘energy’, the heritage of insight, anything can be read into it;  the subject is ‘you’, they talk of ‘it’ and ‘when’, of ‘Walking through this fire’ and of when ‘You could’ve been my king’.  Though with a sound this hazed it may be too much to expect lyrical detail.  Specifics may betray the intelligence of the author but may also detract the listener from a canvas otherwise their own.

The strange combination of the idea of LA and the idea of England seem welded here.  For every sleek vocal the bass is The Cure high in the mix.  Reverbed guitars in My Bloody Valentine aping amounts.  Beats of indie propulsion.  Its as if they are not entirely familiar with the subject or degree of their influences, they’ve heard about the legend but never the detail. Their idea of it has allowed them to break free of their faults and cliches, to create something not altogether new but containing enough difference to warrant sustained attention.  It’s very 80s.  It’s very much of the times.  If I had listened to my instincts and not Rich in RPM I wouldn’t have bought this.  I haven’t been CSSed. In writing this I have proven both sides of my argument to be correct; never trust a critic.

Adam Hiles