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

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David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name (Atlantic – 1971)

When Gene Clark’s troubled brilliance checked out of The Byrds in 1966, it left David Crosby’s syrupy baritone, which for all of the obvious guitar talents of Roger McGuinn, as the remaining great voice in one of groups who helped to define the close harmony sounds that emanated from the hazy glamour of Los Angeles at the end of that decade and into the next. While far from one of the primary songwriters in the early days of the band from which he would eventually be sacked the following year, his notable contributions to the joyously fractious Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s eponymous debut and then Deja Vu with notorious misanthrope Neil Young, hinted at not only the great singer and bon viveur, but a songwriter whose compositions could match his ego. The tracks penned for those albums are archetypes of what are presented as shorthand for the counter culture concerns of the period, from threats of nuclear war in ‘Wooden Ships’; cries of revolution in ‘Long Time Gone’; long hair as a thinly veiled metaphor of non-conformity in the face of ‘the man’ in ‘Almost Cut My Hair’ and general wistful expressions of soul searching in the likes of ‘Guinnevere’ and ‘Deja Vu’. His solo debut expanded on these themes and with an assorted cast of the who’s who of the Laurel Canyon scene, it became an initially critically lambasted album which has become recognised as a curious minor classic of the period.

The album was recorded with a large ensemble cast preposterously nicknamed the ‘Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra’ and in addition to Nash and Young making appearances, it also featured members of The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and CSN&Y muse Joni Mitchell. Album opener ‘Music Is Love’ simultaneously showcases the album’s strengths and weaknesses, with the chiming open-tuned guitars of Crosby, Nash and Young singing ‘Everybody’s saying that music is love’ in a round that is both gorgeous, but retrospectively hamstrung by wishy-washy hippy sentiments and therefore the cynical listener is left wondering whether they can suspend their disbelief and embrace the innocence of the author. The song that follows, ‘Cowboy Movie’, is far from innocent, using the extended metaphor that the title suggests to explore a tale of deceit and betrayal over the love of a woman, in this case strongly suggested by most biographers to be former Crosby, and later Graham Nash partner Joni Mitchell, to the backdrop of an extended groove in the vein of the previous year’s ‘Almost Cut My Hair’, and the sound that characterised much of the notable moments of Neil Young’s 1969 album ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.’ While hardly aggressive, it’s the only one moment of even threatening to explore conventional rock music on an album which uses tonal shifts rather than bludgeoning with sheer force.

The aforementioned Mitchell casts a shadow over much of the album, whether it the aforementioned autobiographical impact or in adding her distinctive vocals to what are the more conventional elements of the album. Certainly, her soprano harmonies at the end of the luxurious ‘Laughing’ add enjoyable counterpoint to the deeper bass rumblings of Crosby’s voice, while she also makes her mark on the somewhat impotent anger of ‘What Are Their Names.’ Powered by some startling guitar interplay between Neil Young and Jerry Garcia which would put Tortoise, Slint et al to shame, the choir which dramatically, but somewhat ludicrously demands to know who the men are ‘that really run this land’, so that they can ‘give them a piece of my mind, about peace for mankind’, is earnest and heartfelt, but does conjure up images of railing against ‘the man’ for ‘the war’, while vanishing in a cloud of paranoia. A little like eating sausages, it is perhaps best to simply enjoy, rather than look too closely at what is actually there and how it was produced.

It’s perhaps the instrumental, or at least less conventional pieces on the album which make it stand out from its contemporaries. ‘Tamalpais High (At About 3)’ is all jazzy tones and bebopping along like the sound of a lazy musical researcher aiming to convey the sensation of a smoky beat cafe. The album’s final two songs ‘Orleans’, takes the fifteenth century French nursery rhyme ‘Le Carillon De Vendôme’ and multi-tracks Crosby’s voice into barely recognisable shifts in tone like a proto-Sigur Ros, while album closer ‘I’d Swear There Was Somebody There’ takes this to its logical conclusion; shorn as it is of any instrumentation and, without wishing to unduly evoke memories of Spinal Tap, takes wordless forms in Raga-like fashion to present something which is almost choric in sound. This was a far cry from the man who started his career adding harmonies to covers of folk hits from Dylan or Seeger.

Albums with various permutations of CSN&Y would follow, but this flawed but ambitious album, which came before the druggy excesses that would plague Crosby in the decades that followed, marked the end of his most lucid and engaging period which started with The Byrds ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ and ended here. It may well slip into many of the clichés of the period, but few singers of the time matched the ambition of the album. While it rarely makes many top 100 lists, it did come second in a top 10 list of The Vatican newspaper ‘L’Osservatore Romano’s’ best albums of all time, only losing out to The Beatles ‘Revolver’. For a self-styled iconoclast who once wrote a song about an acid trip in Winchester Cathedral and fathered a child for a lesbian couple, this is a result of sorts and shows that at least ‘the man’ can’t have been that offended.

James Tiernan