“Warpaint” weaves a sonic dream

After the incredible, unprecedented success of female quartet Warpaint’s full-length debut “The Fool” back in 2010, expectations were ratcheted up to high heavens for their next album.

To say it was anticipated would be an understatement. The LA outfit had seemingly broke onto the scene out of nowhere with an intoxicating, seductive mix of stripped down psych rock with light, experimental melodies and ethereal vocals. The odds of stumbling upon that same formula again and then somehow evolving it were always a long shot; especially considering how effortlessly great “The Fool” just seemed to sound with every listen.

But Warpaint took their rapid success to heart and after touring non-stop for four years in support of the album, long after most blogs had hopefully dismissed them as one great album wonders, rumors of a new self-titled sophomore effort finally bubbled up.

And now here we are, with perhaps the worst response possible to new music; little that could be definitively called better, but then nothing that could be called definitively worse. If anything, indefinite would be the perfect word to sum upWarpaint,which took a chance at being much less accessible than they were on their first album while paradoxically trying to incorporate some faint ideas involving sexy club grooves and vaguely accessible melodies.

In a way, it’s the exact kind of approach that worked on “The Fool”: combining multiple elements that shouldn’t work into a swirling haze that somehow does. But trying to repeat that same kind of beautiful chaos on purpose leads to a much more vague, much less-memorable album.

The stellar intro (creatively titled “Intro”) at once gives you a taste of all the familiar notes the girls have gotten down to a science, married perfectly with their new dreamy electronic drone. Stella Mozgawa’s crashing Zeppelin-esque drumming and Jenny Lee Lindberg’s deceptively complex bass lines hold down the rhythm section, while Theresa Wayman noodles away with her spidery guitar melodies, filtering down like raindrops. The energy builds and rolls right into “Keep It Healthy,” where Emily Kokal steps right back into her captain’s chair and conducts the orchestra of sounds with her haunting croon.

The gang even takes it a step further and wheels out what may be their most accessible song to date with their single “Love Is It Die.” But it’s after that great slam of an opening (that would have made for a solid EP) that things begin to get funky.

“Hi” starts off promisingly enough, giving listeners a first taste of what new toys the ladies have been experimenting with. Mozgawa’s John Bonham crash is replaced with an icy electronic drum machine that, to its credit, does work initially. But within a minute the problems that plague the next half of the album become readily apparent. Simply too much is going on at once. The electronic swells and melodies become too complex and too airy with little to ground them and Kokal’s once warm and inviting vocals become more hollow and empty with passing. “Tease” and “Disco/Verg” are perhaps the worst offenders, but the entire middle half of the album becomes a boring slog.

Warpaint’s usual MO has always been their aversion to simply telegraphing an obvious hook a mile away, opting instead to merely hint at one instead to build upon their “post punk meets psychedelic rock” rhythm section. But on “Warpaint,” ideas are far too convoluted and free flowing to ever form a solid connection with the listener.

Thankfully, there are a few great album highlights that cap things off nicely. A marked improvement arrives with “Feeling Alright” (by far the best song on the album and the only one that stands out besides the single), and “CC” demonstrates all those lush electronic chords and keyboards used right.

By the time the last notes of the soothing piano number “Son” fades away, “Warpaint” has done enough to repair any of the damage it might have done with one too many bad ideas. But there’s little that sticks out or can be recalled.

A listen through this album is to replicate the sonic experience of falling asleep in a sunbeam and waking from a lovely, but forgettable dream. And then, quickly realizing you wasted an entire hour you’re never getting back.


(Rough Trade)

January 17, 2014

Grade: B-