Warpaint: Heads Up review – all tuned up

With their third album LA indie girls Warpaint have discovered a sense of purpose – and a handful of catchy songs

Grabbing the listener by the lapels has never seemed an overriding preoccupation for LA’s Warpaint. They have preferred to court attention in circuitous, free-form ways. On their two brooding albums, the foursome have leaned heavily on grooves and moods, on diaphanous wafting over low-slung basslines, to seal their reputation. Actual tunes have been at something of a premium. Warpaint’s third album is aptly titled, given the startling outbreak of focus here.

The first sign of Warpaint’s new cogency was last year’s non-album track, I’ll Start Believing – a post-punk screed more stark, direct and tuneful than a great deal of the band’s previous perambulations.

Last month, they released New Song – a disco charmer about how finding a new love is akin to enjoying a tune you can’t get out of your head. The “can’t get out of your head” bit is pivotal: while Warpaint’s gigs tend towards dancing and euphoria, and their music videos mix fun with threat – check out Disco//Very from 2014’s Warpaint LP – their albums lean towards the wallowing and dirge-y, as though bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg, singing guitarists Theresa Wayman and Emily Kokal and drummer Stella Mozgawa have been locked in a bunker all their lives, with only Cure bass lines for sustenance.

Not everything on Heads Up is as forthcoming as New Song (Don’t Let Go is a case in point). But a few songs come close. So Good also fulfils the promise of its title, to another of Stella Mozgawa’s shimmering disco beats. The band – who write democratically – forgot to write a chorus (“Uh-huh, huh, uh-huh-huuuh-huh,” it goes) but the melody lodges deep. An unexpected little stutter of keyboard (hell, call it a solo) near the five-minute mark completes the picture of a band sharpening up the details. Dre – named after the Compton Doctor – brings in a few R&B feints. Throughout, the production here by returnee Jacob “Exquisite Corpse” Bercovici has a lot less smoke, and lot more sparkly mirrors. The album’s title track, meanwhile, keeps up Warpaint’s Cure fixation. But this time, it’s a double-time bobble, the kind that features on the Cure’s cheerier cuts.

Watch the video for Whiteout by Warpaint.

Recent interviews point to the band’s near-breakup and a tight album delivery deadline as two stressors that impelled Heads Up’s sense of alacrity. The band’s many extramural flings might have had some bearing too. Last year, Emily Kokal guested on Saul Williams’s hard-hitting Burundi single, and Mozgawa (who’s also moonlighted with Regina Spektor and Kurt Vile) most recently provided the rattling undercarriage for Kim Gordon’s tremendous Murdered Out. Both are head-turning, ear-pricking songs; the kind Warpaint are gradually coming round to.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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