Warpaint have kept busy in the six years since their last album, with members of the Los Angeles quartet variously collaborating with the likes of Phoebe Bridgers, Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett. This is in addition to undertaking solo projects, motherhood, and cross-country moves.
Unlike 2016’s Heads Up, whose more direct approach seemed to be influenced by their extra-curricular work, Radiate Like This sounds like a logical progression of their song-based structures. This is despite geography and the pandemic affecting their approach to writing, having only just completed the foundational tracking sessions when the world went into lockdown. Where once their low-slung bass grooves were developed out of jam sessions, here the members recorded separately and exchanged digital files, building up tracks layer by layer. It’s a tribute to their intuitive working relationship that much here still sounds like it was played by four people in one room. The diaphanous ‘Like Sweetness’, in particular, is so freeform it forgot a hook.
Most of the tracks, however, do have the semblance of a pop structure without ever getting as close to the dance floor as 2016’s ‘New Song’. Their gauzy sonic layers, which have risked tipping into brooding dirges the past, are here instantly recognisable yet given a lightness of touch. An added build and release, as heard on ‘Proof’, gives their sonic collaging a sharper edge.
Likewise Theresa Wayman and Emily Kokal’s trademark post-punk guitars are retained while adding fleeting moments of optimism, as captured on lead single ‘Champion’. About “being a champion to oneself and for others,” its rich harmonies are grounded by Stella Mozgawa’s drums.
It’s her percussion and the production, which the band undertook in partnership with Sam Petts-Davies (Frank Ocean, Thom Yorke), that provides the album’s most striking moments. ‘Hips’ has the itchy rhythm section of Sault, ‘Altar’ showcases their oft-discussed love of hip-hop, and ‘Stevie’ has the smoothness of classic ’90s R&B (and the standout line, “You are one freaky mother!”).
Not everything hits the mark. The e-piano on ‘Trouble’ promises more than it delivers, despite the sweetness of its harmonisation, and ‘Hard to Tell You’ offers little new to their Cure fixation. But they pull it out of the bag with the closer ‘Send Nudes’, which manages to be simultaneously laid-back and lascivious. A campfire guitar with layered ’80s synth, it’s as sharp and focused as they’ve ever sounded.
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