One of 2014’s most anticipated records comes early on in the year in the form of Warpaint’s self-titled second album. Central to any hints that the band have dropped over the past year or so has been the suggestion that we should expect a different direction from their 2010 debut The Fool, but even if its eventual sound was hard to predict, it was almost a given that it would be a highly assured piece of work.
Some of the songs have apparently come about as the result of jamming during soundchecks, and when you consider that Warpaint’s formidable live reputation is in part due to their super-tight onstage chemistry, this is an encouraging prospect. Add in the fact that it’s produced by PJ Harvey and Nick Cave collaborator Flood, with Radiohead’s unofficial sixth member Nigel Godrich on board for mixing duties, and you have what looks like a recipe for acclaim.
It’s almost comically self-deprecating, then, that the album should begin with what appears to be a contrived false start. The opening instrumental Intro fires up with a few seconds of synth before Stella Mozgawa’s drums pound into action. Then there’s a shout and an apology, the sound of clapped drumsticks counting the band in, and the track starts over. Except it doesn’t start over: it barely seems to have stumbled, and the second opening rises smoothly out of the supposed mistake. It’s unclear who fucked it up – and that’s surely because no one has fucked it up, or the whole band has fucked it up for effect. In a way, that contrived error sums up the whole album; it’s so smoothly put together that you barely see how its component parts fold around each other.
One thing that you can’t fail to notice is the presence of the basslines. Jenny Lee Linberg’s bass has always been an important layer in Warpaint’s sound, but here it’s more prominent than ever. It dances throughout Hi like a nervous heartbeat set against the keening vocals, and then as Biggy develops from being a synthscape it’s the bass that carries it along.
The title of the latter might well be an allusion to the hip-hop influence that’s apparently informed the album. Singer and guitarist Emily Kokal has spoken of “drum machines and ambience, music that’s more than standard rock” and this is apparent not only in the big basslines but also when the vocals of Hi take an RnB turn as the chorus begins. Guitars often stay quiet in favour of synths, but when they are deployed it’s to great effect, as in the almost-solos of Love Is To Die.
Towards the second half of the record there’s a change of pace from the seamless creation of atmosphere that characterises the first. Disco // very, although clumsily titled, is one of the strongest tracks here, with its four-to-the-floor beat and beguiling off-kilter harmonies. Teese, meanwhile, brings in acoustic elements. There’s nothing as soft yet dark as earlier tracks Baby or Billie Holiday here, though; when Warpaint cast shadows these days they do so with a much firmer hand.
This is certainly a more confident album than The Fool, and that confidence pays off. It’s not consistently excellent – the effortless sense of atmosphere isn’t sustained for all of its 51 minute running time, and closing track Son, which comes across a bit too Lana Del Rey in its doe-eyed stateliness, is a particular misstep. But Warpaint appear to have found a sonic texture that befits their knack for writing elegant, sinuous songs, so for the most part the album flows perfectly.