Warpaintlp

Looking like they do (hippy-but-not-mad-hippy, sultry and un-hideous), living where they live (LA), performing to film star fans and dating rock stars who’ve helped out behind the mixing desk before now, Warpaint are a cynic’s dream. They were even co-founded by a Hollywood actress: bassist Jenny’s sister, Shannyn Sossamon. To the untrusting, the idea that they can actually play as well is a ticked box too far, and last year’s hit-and-miss ‘Exquisite Corpse’ EP (produced by singer/guitarist Emily’s then boyfriend John Frusiante) hardly had the girls’ backs. If anything it supported the idea that their ‘girl group’ status, west coast zip code (this year’s Brooklyn seal of approval) and celebrity ties were what propelled Warpaint’s growing appeal, not their airy, psych-ish rock.

‘The Fool’ takes this notion of “if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is” and reminds us that “usually” isn’t “always”. Because if Warpaint were four heffers from The Isle Of Man with a contacts list crowned by Bobby Davro, their debut album would be no less hypnotic, intricate and seductively brilliant.

Rather refreshingly, ‘The Fool’ refuses to even dabble in fashionable DIY aesthetics. It’s lush and competent, not scratchy and amateurish, because to record the band’s four-part harmonies with humming no-fi techniques would be to do their breathy, folk vocals a severe injustice. The same goes for the elaborate layers of mathy, borderline-baggy arpeggios that flicker through ‘Warpaint’, gargle over the break-beats of ‘Bees’ and dance over ‘Composure’ – the album’s best chance of a ‘hit’, courtesy of a quickened pace that is relatively frantic compared to the record’s ongoing “prowl” setting. It does, however, still have a gloopy, minute-long introduction.

Warpaint don’t like to rush things, y’see, which is why ‘The Fool’ will be listened to by some and dismissed as a record void of hooks; a collection of songs that sometimes throb with trippy menace (the opening ‘Set Your Arms Down’) and occasionally sound pretty enough (‘Shadows’) but are more hassle to ‘get’ than they’re worth. But that’d be the cynics talking again. Or the impatient at the very least.

It only takes two listens to realise that ‘Shadows’ isn’t pretty but beautiful, while ‘Baby’ – a five-minute ballad played on a single acoustic guitar – is ‘The Fool’’s most poignant moment as Emily orders/begs/warns a lover, “Don’t you call anybody else baby/’Cause I’m your baby still!”. And the more you listen to Warpaint’s precisely structured songs (the slow, meticulous dynamics of each one is the album’s unquestionable strength) the more you realise that ‘The Fool’ is brimming with hooks and memorable phrases, they’re just a little more sophisticated than most. They’re hidden, beneath a tangled mass of influences from The Cure (most notable in the album’s guitar parts) to Californian psych to straight-up folk to – on ‘Majesty’ – wobbly electronics.

Put simply, Warpaint were a perfect album away from being the perfect band. Now they’re not.

By Danny Canter

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