Didn’t read Part I?
The opening tracks play thoroughly in consistence with Warpaint, expounding from where the second record left off—the prior tours the shallows, Heads Up dives into the deep.
The band claimed Heads Up was their most upbeat and infectious record to date and it is, in spurts. But all of that indietronica pep is eaten up by the vast roots of the dreamy, spiritual tripnagogic rock seed that they planted in Side 2 of The Fool and then fruited with the grapes of Warpaint’s embedded shoegaze wrath. And sadly in that critical fervor, I am seized not by this albums willingness to push deeper into the subliminal, but by its lack to make this subconscious Lovecraftian electro-fest something that someone would want to listen, much less dance to; they fail to bolt together solos even a bit as compelling as those found on their Exquisite Corpse EP. Whether its means to divert the listener from such terror via the banal but admitted earworm of “New Song,” or showcase their plainly ever-growing detached nature on the record’s entire second-side, I understand the same fury of Cohen or the simple disregard of Kitty Empire (if a lack of focus turned her off from Warpaint, I can only count the seconds it must have taken before this record hit the bottom of her dustbin). The seeming sonic deflation must be explained, nevertheless, and it must be done so via a lack of driven, single vehicle experimentation. Wayman explains the motif behind the compositions:
“We were pairing off and experimenting either on our own or in pairs in the comfort of our own home studios, having as much time as we needed without deadlines looming.”
When an artist takes time in comfort it requires many years to refine the work, but to keep the pump working it requires constant, non-stop pressure (such as was the case with any Sixties rock band). With Warpaint the band was on the throttle together, always writing as an ensemble; the long-player thus came out as consistent yet fresh, together yet adventurous—a solid record. Heads-Up, however, took time away, a great deal of time away for each member to study their particular brands of sorcery in solitude or in simple pairs. Thus, while there still glimmers charm in their travail, it does not hold a similar completeness, it falls on the other side of the conman’s coin: it reeks of musty sameness, as if contracted from B-Side babbling, gobbledygook guitar work and lost-in-the-lines shoegaze, all mixed with the same dance and electronic influences that produced Radiohead’s more recent output. In independent study, the ladies rode their noses too intently to their volumes of Magick Most Ambient and stared too long at the crystal balls and thus found themselves consumed. More than any other record, however, Heads Up sounds of the ancient desert—not just Death Valley but that of a Pharaoh Queen’s tomb. It’s more barren, more desolate, more decimated than Warpaint. Inside the mausoleum, the ladies find the mummified heart of an abused woman, which if jumped back into life vis-à-vis a return to some goddamn electric riffwork—truly a miracle—it would still be broken. And because the magic in this record is already feeble and disjointed, do not expect it to grab so suddenly, as if triggering a curse. Instead, expect all those dancing impulses to be hexed into a malaise. It’s hard to say an album that has so many good parts can fail to put them together in anything more than an inelegant manner, but Heads Up does it as a long-player. And to disregard an album is to spend as much time on it as its counterparts or contemporaries, and still come out with just as few sentimental words as when the task was undertaken. Whereas Warpaint was a record that thoroughly rewarded repeat listenings by sandblast-sculpting all three sides into pleasurable vistas, repeat listenings to Heads-Up only reveals a somewhat enjoyable first half swallowed by the jaws of the dunes. From there, it’s a tumbleweed all faffing about, rambling ‘cross the wasteland with only two things to talk for (“Don’t Let Go” and “Heads Up”). From this narrative, it seems the ladies of Warpant should pack up the cabal and go home; the magic is gone.
Bollocks to that.
The desert long-player does not belie a sudden lack of supernatural in Warpaint’s earthen sense of style. In the passing year, while tumbling through the scrolls of interviews, deep listening through each album, burrowing through the volumes of Mozgawa features and absorbing myself in the musty, Eighties-lite effort of Lindberg’s solo project right on!, an epiphany occurred; shone like a flash and flicker of a focus. The ladies of Warpaint have thus far proved their studio talents apart more than together. No, this was folly—it must be!; Lindberg only had one solo record to her name, Mozgawa was working with producers and artists, brilliantly adding layers without changing fundamental sections, Wayman was still working towards her own solo fruition as TT and Kokal had gone incognito. Warpaint was surefire proof of their musical talents showing continuous refinement, not even the overindulgent Heads-Up could deny that, but with LoveLaws looming ever closer to its release date in May, it felt like a litmus test on one of the major sections of Warpaint’s spell-weaving sound was fast approaching. Wayman was also, along with Mozgawa, one of the major reasons for the greater departure into sleepy triphop of the third record. LoveLaws was then also a litmus test of such a direction.
May came, the record dropped. The reviews came in. In words, some described it as the mad scrawl of a personal journal, others describing it as an exquisite showcase of everything anyone would love about Warpaint. In numbers, a Pitchfork 7. Everyone agreed it was good, and I’m no different, but nobody really could agree why. The gushing fans were evident, declaring LoveLaws the next in a series of perfect records (an impossibility, even if Warpaint were the Beatles in drag), and the distant observers were pronounced–quelle ironie—by their speaking in third-person tongue about what would and should please said gushing fans. Pah, diplomacy? This is music. And the music itself is rife with more personal cuts from Wayman, all centering on the tried-true ice-cold scorn of a woman’s fury. Perhaps that what was meant when William Congreve remarked “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned nor hell a fury like a woman scorned,” because the rime and frost on Wayman’s blade goes slick with bubbling blood as it enters, retreats and then enters again the heart of targeted acolytes—count me one among them.
It is a nigh-carbon copy spin on Warpaint, brought to us again, four years on. Or perhaps even better, it’s more a proper evolution than that drab and limp Heads Up follow-up. I would say it’s validation that the latter was largely a misfire, a set of clumsy spellcasting, a fuck-up. And god-fucking-damn is that a relief, because as far as debuts go, I will gush: Wayman is back like an alchemist oxidizing nitrogenous triphop with the hydrogen basics of rock ‘n’ roll to create purely acidic alternative. It isn’t all perfect, there are some songs that are still too heady, but Wayman stays true to the Warpaint theory of sacrifice; taking listeners by the scruff the neck rather than caressing them down the spine (Lindberg’s right on! is the only Warpaint-related record that worked well with a slower introspective style). But Wayman’s general improvement in compelling downtempo does allow for some casually cruel and highly entertaining bait-and-switchery on “LoveLeaks,” featuring melodic accents rife with art rock machinations. She allows for the alternative to indulge in little flowery additions and more out-there instrumentation via something that sounds like a violin and a bagpipe that had rough sex and a resulting lovechild. An instrumental melody coursing with piss and vinegar in every vein; how wonderfully vicious. And Warpaint records have always involved notes and lyricism harking to not putting Baby in a corner. Yet this time, Wayman is like Jennifer Grey standing up, stepping out of the corner, and then kicking Jerry Orbach square in the nuts. To finish, she demands of Patrick Swayze why he would ever leave her, order he stop his smirking and command him to get his ass on the dancefloor, and win that fucking rowdy Sixties crowd. The choreography of this scene cannot be denied in my head or out, I swear by it. It details a witch-by-hobby going fulltime occult. It’s not a lie to say this record should excite someone (*cough* paging Lauren Entwistle *cough*) for the future of witchcraft in rock ‘n’ roll; if Wayman and Lindberg bring a vial of their acerbic solutions from their solo studies, listeners and fans might just be treated to the most powerful, direct and spellbinding Warpaint records yet. And that is a good feeling: to know that the witches of Warpaint are talented is one thing, but to spot the inkling that their best achievements are ahead of them? Goosebumps.
There is no riddle, then, as to why Warpaint—a good band—has made more clunky records together than not. Good bands do that—quite often. See: the Grateful Dead post-American Beauty, the Cure all throughout the Eighties or anything recent by Gorillaz. What matters is that the bandmates don’t sound washed-out or in serious lack of influences or curiosities. Wayman, Kokal, Lindberg and Mozgawa have not shown any such lack of proficiency—Kokal’s general artistic inactivity not withstanding (I like to think of her of as harnessing her inner Daniel Day-Lewis and waiting for a project she can really throw herself into, y’know with a beard and tophat to boot). This optimism is nonetheless not without caution, lest the next record come out like a train-wreck and totally destroy the band’s commercial standing and inner chemistry à la Eagles circa ’79, but it is optimism nonetheless. And for a band that wallowed and sunk in the dumps in drastic fashion across their last group record? It’s a damn good feeling to know they’re still figuring it out stylistically. It’s a damn good feeling to be positive that they, along with Foals, represent two artists from either side of the pond that represent the lasting influences of Robert Smith and the Cure with proficiency. But more than that it’s a damn good feeling to know these women are inheritors of the long thread of unbound ladies rock. I keep thinking back to the critical moment of “Disco//very,” when Wayman’s voice begins to warble and spin out control, as if her eyes are rolling to the back of her head and her whole body has gone limp like a rag-doll from the pure pleasure of pushing her voicebox past its limits, past its normal register. It provides a significant counterpoint to the machismo of most classic rock ‘n’ roll. If Robert Johnson and all his acolytes are so prone to ask for freshly squeezed lemon juice rolling down their legs, then Warpaint and all their associated acts are more than welcome to gush with the boiling waves of a Sargasso sea and roll from head to toe. If an AC/DC record is to make their bedchambers the decadent temple for the man, then Warpaint is to reforge theirs into a degenerate garden for the woman.
There’s something exciting about that. A band of women making rock music that is under-the-skin seductive with glassy-eyed guile and teeming with the same erotic liberation that men have played en masse since the first Blues progression was strung ad hoc. Warpaint and rock progenitors both have that same manic masturbatory quality (be it the mind or the soul or the dick or the clit) that unleashes primeval senses and lathers them across the black grooves of a vinyl record player. What’s impressive is that Warpaint has, via solo pursuits, improved their translations of such sorcerous slang, gestures and progressions. A harem of hair-raising, blood-curdling, skin-scratching, hickey-giving chord change crazes and sudden melodic desires. All right there in the cuts. All working towards physical, spiritual and choral release. All slithering, leaping and running with ease across the greater parts of their records. All fuming with phero-harmonic stench from hair locks and body. All boiling and bubbling and bursting to an ecstatic end. All pumping a puritan’s heart wretched with horror. All slowly dragging a writer to the edge-of-his-seat with anticipation. All yearning as to what will happen next behind the closed door. All waiting to be had from the body quivers to the pillow whispers. And they play coy about it. They leave so much to the imagination as to what exactly forms the sexual chemistry. They leave so much to be thoroughly savoured whether on cherry-red ink, guitars or lips. What element, what instrument, what player? Oh they are such teases and such dominatrices. And oh, they wouldn’t let you know it. Not until you unwrap those records, poor boy. And not until you, poor boy, take these special records down from the parlour shelves for somewhere rather special. Somewhere where coven coos and witchy whispers can electrify the body, dig into pores and slide sweat down the skin. Somewhere where heathens and heart-dropping music can intertwine without interruption.
Yes, just as any other witchy woman of the past, present or future, just as any laid out or not by Mrs. Entwistle, the women of Warpaint exude narrative control that is pure pornography from Exquisite Corpse all the way to Heads Up. Even if they sing of being distant and removed, they chant as if they still have the image of long-gone lover once between legs found between fingers, image steaming in a crystal orb, who flees as if within them boils a blood curse, pounding their temple with all the more force the farther that poor bastard runs away. And so with just as much as a word sent along the lonesome wind, the Warpaint witches can bring them back. It’s magic passed down via scrawls and notes and b-sides all the way from Nina Simone to Stevie Nicks to Kate Bush to PJ Harvey and now to Warpaint, it’s a sugar that transforms to venom, playing in glee for every witchy woman image of wickedness and bestiality unbound. It’s sex that sells. It’s damn good entertainment and it’s a damn good match for that Robert Johnsonite machismo that dominated music for so long. Now Warpaint has their turn to release records stating with steel-faced confidence and the words: “Yes. Yes, poor boy, I am both your effervescent dream and your howling nightmare. And, no, no. No, you will not be able to handle me. Not now, not ever.”
And thus Warpaint does together as an impressive live show. Their contemporaries and predecessors are the solo acts of the witchy-world, amazing in their own rights, but not a fearsome foursome, a single act that just wipes the face of the earth sloppy with a tattered rag of talent and kickass libido. It’d be premature to say these ladies are the Led Zeppelin of modern-rock—no group can feasibly hold that title, not even Greta Van Fleet, flail as they might. Because among the world of rock ‘n’ roll, fem-powered or no, it’s Warpaint that carry the banner of fever-pitch eroticism. They are the band I love and they got those witchy, risqué shoegazing grooves to match the Plant-Page-Paul-Bonham sexual voodoo energy pound-for-pound.
That’s Warpaint’s mojo now—and ain’t nobody taking it.