It's taken a surprisingly long three years for Warpaint to follow up their debut album The Fool. For a band that seems to play and write music so instinctually together, there might have been a little bit of worry that their chemistry had dissipated in the studio in recording their second album. And, on early listens to Warpaint it almost seemed like that is what happened. The songs on The Fool each clicked into a roaring, faithful purr so easily, like a faithful classic motorbike that you could then ride for miles under their golden Californian sun. While possessing all the same strengths as The Fool - hypnotically entangled guitars, powerful-yet-vulnerable female vocals, an ease in shifting gears mid-song -Warpaint is a much darker, nocturnal and less welcoming affair than its predecessor. But, when you get to grips with this fact and find your way in, you'll find that the fire at the heart of Warpaint's music is burning brighter than ever.
The main advancement in their sound comes in the form of their production, and in particular how it makes the rhythm section a more dominant and lively beast. One only need look at the lead single 'Love Is To Die' for a prime example; the teasing and clicking percussion leads the way into the song like a fuse moving slowly along towards the dynamite, but rather than an explosion of guitars at the end we're greeted with a hovering, all-encompassing fog of bass that becomes the essence of the song, pushing the guitars to the periphery and making Emily Kokal's manipulated vocals sound even more alien and spooky.
The very next song 'Hi' is possibly the highlight of the album, and shows the increased variation in styles that Warpaint have employed on this outing. It starts out with Kokal's haunting vocal before the song gets a shot in the arm in the form of a crisply popping kick-and-hi-hat beat and an enormous, undulating shadow of a bassline. The song then goes on a tug of war, seamlessly flitting between Warpaint's more intrepid desert-rock and dipping back into this more serene, heady atmospheric style, before the conclusion which blends them together in a breathtaking finale. An uppity drumbeat and wiggly bassline are used on the immediately infectious 'Disco // very' as Warpaint mount another new method of attack, delivering a song that bounds ebulliently forward making use of all the girls joining together in untethered and spirited vocals, bringing a needed shock of life around the middle of the album.
Warpaint, like its predecessor, focuses on the tribulations of love and relationships, and now with Warpaint's increased adeptness at instilling their songs with tangible and dense atmospheres, they are even more affecting. This does mean that the album is a much more somber affair, but this in turn brings about gorgeous tracks like the aforementioned 'Hi', which deals with strenuous nocturnal relationships, or the beautiful 'Biggy' which employs lofty synths and intelligent backup vocals to realise its fantastical lyrics about dancing above clouds and memories being destroyed. Previous Warpaint releases have had their more stripped down moments like 'Billie Holiday' and 'Baby'; the closest to that on Warpaint is 'Teese' which starts in a similar vein with just acoustic guitar and hushed vocals, but the song is a steady build and reaches the peak emotional strain on the album, in a devastating coalescence of the four women singing their hearts out. Another standout vocally is 'Drive', another slow-burning song, which by its conclusion rises to an interweaving of the four voices that is so stirring and courageous that it will undoubtedly be all-conquering in the live realm.
Whether they're delivering something rocking, glistening or simply breathtaking, almost every song on this 12 track effort is a gem (only the strange sound collage that is 'Go In' falls flat). The three year break and the initial coldness of Warpaint provided a distinct feeling of a sophomore slump on early listens. But, once Warpaint's new widescreen ambitions became clear, it turned out that the very opposite was true. On their debut the Californian quintet hinted that they could be one of the brightest stars of the current crop, and although they went dark for a few years, they're back bigger and more full of life, and making good on that promise.