Available on: Rough Trade LP
It begins hauntingly; a dewy-eyed recollection of Tricky’s Nearly God halcyon days; it ends like Thom Yorke’s ‘Harrowdown Hill’, via loose-limbed post-punk. And then the second song starts. That’s right: Warpaint’s back! And she’s all grown up. When last we saw our heroine, during Exquisite Corpse last year, she was insecure; desperate to impress, she fluttered her Maybelline super-volumised eyelashes at anything that moved, making kissy-faces and twirling her hair around a finger, faux absent mindedly. And all the while, there lay a fragility at her heart. Sure, people around her told her she was gorgeous, and she did pull. Eventually. But there was a self-doubt gnawing incessantly away at her. Did she deserve happiness, really? Was she really as pretty a her friends? And even if she was, did the man from the other night really value her as a person? Why hadn’t he called?
How things change over the course of a year. Like Anna Chapman, this pretty young thing has come out of her shell. Once a reserved wallflower, she has been seen in all the right places, made the right noises, and is suddenly the talk of the town. Everybody loves her. And why shouldn’t they? Unlike her clumsy Russian parallel, Warpaint has nothing to hide. Quite the opposite: she wears her heart on her sleeve. So much so, in fact, that it’s virtually pumping plasma out all over her new Duvetica winter coat. But it is this emotional honesty, as well as her beauty, that everyone loves.
There are initial concerns about a slightly confused sense of identity, not altogether uncommon when a girl like Warpaint is still new in the city. Like Exquisite Corpse, The Fool takes a while for the dust to settle; for the elements of what is a very intelligent mix eventually coalesce into a whole. What exactly that whole is, though, is still not so simple to answer. Some have suggested it’s ‘shoegaze’, which is both inaccurate and a misnomer. This record has precious little to do with optimistic dream-pop from the early 1990s; with yearning Creation-esque indie it shares that emotion and nothing more.
If pushed, you could see something of the early 1980s Cocteau Twins output in the longing tones of the vocal performances that impress throughout, both with their delivery and their arrangement. But that makes Warpaint’s individual brew no more indie that it would be Southern Gothic, as the emotional timbre is as much early Devics as anything else. And what, then, of the elastic, subtly brilliant bass performances, equal parts Tool, Fugazi, Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett and Peter Hook? Warpaint is who she is. Her closest relative would be post-punk, due to the aforementioned dubby bass lines, ostensibly thrown-together arrangement, and and spirit of adventure in which anything goes – as long as it goes together.
Take ‘Composure’, for example. It begins with somewhat sinister, gently-plucked, guitar chords. Soon, Warpaint begins chanting, to the left, somewhere in the distance. As it repeats, it becomes the most understated anthem in existence. And then it disappears completely, sucked into the black hole of an incredibly nihilistic funk bassline. The lyrical theme of the song, “how can I keep my composure?”, returns, but the punky chant has been replaced by a more introspective singing. The song settles into a sort of indie, sort of rock, that can only really be described as Warpaint. That it has multiple stark changes over the course of a few minutes, never sounding contrived beyond the act of composition, is heartening to say the least. It’s one of the best songs this year.
After that blast of eclecticism, the lyrical and vocal mood of longing or regret continues, but in a more sedate fashion. ‘Baby’ begins as a pared down piece of work that, were Warpaint a man, would garner comparison with Will Oldham, Mark Lanegan and early Ben Harper. Gradually, layers of sound and backing vocal ease into the mix, in a sumptuous aural melange. It manages to seduce and suggest perpetual ennui, as “I’m your baby still” is uttered with a calm that betrays its desperation under the surface. This sense of loss and desire is a constant on The Fool.
On ‘Majesty’, the mix goes underwater; the vocals closely mic’d, bittersweet nothings whispered in a diving bell. It then turns into a pseudo-sequel to Animal Collective’s ‘Also Frightened’: its optimistic chorus soars, albeit fleetingly. “You could have been my king”, Warpaint insists, heartbroken, as water seeps into the chamber, the song growing increasingly stressed, before subduing to a blissful inevitability.
Some quarters of the media are acting like this gorgeous record – and with it Warpaint – just fell from the sky, fully-formed. To pretend as such is to deny Warpaint due respect for the quality of Exquisite Corpse. It also denies the audience the opportunity to hear more beauty. Perhaps more pertinently, it denies Warpaint the opportunity to show how she has grown in such a short space of time. ‘Beetles’, off the last record, for example, is still spinning in this reviewer’s mind. It’s not even the best song on Exquisite Corpse. That The Fool is a marked improvement in sound, delivery and ambition bodes well for its lasting quality.