Usually if a band is going to release a self-titled album it’s going to be their debut. If not, then it usually happens later in their career after they’re several albums in and want to announce that they’re changing direction, or perhaps that they’ve finally found themselves again after a bad album or two. It’s very rare that a band releases an eponymous sophomore effort, as Warpaint has done here. (If you count their EP, Exquisite Corpse, then this is their third release. But it’s only their second full-length album.) I’m not sure why they’ve named their new album after themselves, but after listening to it several times in preparation for this review — and also because I quite like it — it does seem fitting somehow. Perhaps they’re saying, this is us, take it or leave it. Or perhaps what they’re implying is that this album is as good as their debut. Or that it’s as good as any debut in general, being that many artists’ best albums wind up being their debuts. I would not have a problem with them making this an eponymous release for any or all of those reasons.
For starters, you feel like what you’re hearing is the band at their purest yet. Producer Flood — best known for his work with U2 — just lets them do what they do best, play their instruments and sing. Normally, he’s known for adding lots of layers and electro-tinkering, but he has only done a bit of those here. The guitar lines remain intricate yet pure and the vocals are as hypnotic and ethereal as they were on their last album, The Fool. The immediately noticeable improvement here is how expertly synchronized Stella’s drumming and Jenny’s bass guitar playing are. They’ve always played well together, but here they do so in a way that sucks you right in, mesmerizing the listener.
And, yes, this album is as good as their debut and any debut by any artist, period.
Highlights? I’m quite fond of “Go In,” a song which borders on trip-hop with its bewitching downtempo percussion and enchanting vocals. The song also features some faint and eerie synth that comes buzzing toward you like an angry bee then backs off only to come at you again a second or two later. Even more in the trip-hop vein is “Hi,” which is just slightly faster than down-tempo and packs snappy beats that both pull listeners in and shove them away, though the end result is purely captivating. (If someone had told me Massive Attack had produced this one I would have believed them.) Equally bedazzling is “Love is to Die,” an almost funky tune with lyrics that incite listeners to dance, which they might very well do, given the song’s punchy beats that are like HAIM on a bit of codeine.
I also have to mention “Disco//Very,” which we might as well go ahead and call a disco song because it is plenty danceable — with its smashing beats and groovy bassline — and might even get some airplay in the clubs. If there’s one song that has Flood written all over it, it’s this one. And that’s not a bad thing, as it’s one of the group’s best tracks to date. To my ears, the production sounds an awful lot like Arcade Fire’s Reflektor, which I mean as a compliment as I actually loved that one in spite of what other critics had to say about it.
If I have one criticism of Warpaint, the album, it’s this: the vocals are often so low in the mix that they might as well be buried. It’s almost as though the band is trying to conceal them. But I don’t think that’s their intent. I think they’re just trying to make them sound subtle if not angelic. And because they’re familiar with the lyrics, they don’t have trouble understanding them when they listen to the songs. I, on the other hand, regularly found myself struggling to understand them. All the more reason for me to buy the album on vinyl, I suppose, since that would likely come with the lyrics. This is one I definitely want to own on vinyl anyway. It’s that damn good.