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Warpaint's "The Fool"

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Review of Warpaint's new album

 

The Fool
Warpaint
[Rough Trade]

When I th
ink of an all-female music group, I usually think of a pop group like the Spice Girls: a bunch of girls trying to be cute and sexy, telling you what you need to do to be their lover while doing choreographed dances in flashy and revealing outfits. Or I think of bands where the girls are trying to outdo the boys at their own game by being louder, heavier, and more raw, such as Joan Jett's projects and Kittie. 

Most of the latter have a hard time getting the respect, attention, and applause they deserve even when they create something unique and brilliant, because the men will always see them as "girls who are trying to play a boy's game." After long, hard years of having shit thrown at them, it seems like they only get a "good job" slap on the ass from the guys for just being able to stick it through so much shit. Even then, it's hard for anyone to identify with them, because they are too loud and raw for the girls to identify with, and they are not cute and pretty enough for the boys to want to date. It has always been difficult to be a girl band.

Warpaint, a four-piece, all-female band from Los Angeles, showed me what all the other girls were doing wrong. These girls weren't trying to prove themselves in sweaty-balled man country or squeezing for space in the overcrowded pop princess market. They created their own mystical realm where music is made by witchcraft that the boys don't have enough finesse to harness.

On their first full-length album The Fool, Warpaint's sound is a concoction of soft, spacey, entrancing and enchanting melodies from two independent guitar parts (one focused on main melody, the other acting as a synthesizer that supports the melody), both heavily medicated with chorus, delay, tremolo and other spells, layered over with multiple vocal harmonies to create otherworldly, haunting soundscapes.

 


The rhythm section consists of an extremely steady and groovy bass that works with the drums to give the illusion of steadiness while the drums secretly skip all over the place. Because of Warpaint's refusal to follow the strict structure of most radio songs and their tendency to randomly break into jams, some call them avant-garde, experimental art rock. I say they are a progressive witchcraft jam band.

The first track of the album, "Set Your Arms Down," is the signature haunting spirits-in-the woods sound that Warpaint makes its mark in the 21st century with. "Arms" begins with a simple bass chord progression, is followed by soft drums that transition to Emily Kokal's ghostly voice singing about bringing pocket knives to a back porch, and ends with a thin string of a melody on guitar. Each instrument sneaks up on you while you are preoccupied with the previous band member's contribution, and before you know it, you are floating away into the night, walking through fire by candlelight with Warpaint. The progressive jam out during the bridge/outro makes me think of Robert Downey Jr.'s trip down the rabbit hole in Sherlock Holmes.

The second track, "Warpaint," begins with the bass making low frequency noises, creating a bed for the main melody guitar to bounce on. The song then progressively grows into a jam that evolves into new riffs, never looking back until it ends, leaving you wondering how you got there.

"Undertow" is perhaps the most grounded song on the album, a song one could use to break in someone less experimental when exposing them to Warpaint. "Undertow" is a simple 3-chord progression in a traditional pop song pattern with a catchy vocal melody, as opposed to the spiritual mantras you were getting used to hearing. I can't help but think of Nirvana's "Polly" when I hear them sing, "What's the matter? You hurt yourself?" I'm not sure if it's the similar melody or that chilled-out spirit in Kurt and Emily's voices. The song of course breaks out into a jam during the bridge in typical Warpaint fashion.

After the predictability of "Undertow," the band lashes out by indulging in the more impulsive and sporadic "Bees," which employs more dissonance than any of the other tracks.  "Shadows" begins with a lone acoustic guitar and Emily's haunting vocals. The rest of the band doesn't sneak in until halfway through the song, just for the choruses.

"Composure" begins in a relaxed and steady manner before it stops and re-emerges as another free- spirited Warpaint song where the guitar parts seem to be possessed by a higher spirit with no predictable melody during the bridge, but ends the same way it began. "Baby" is the token stripped- down acoustic song on the album, with Emily's lone voice haunting you with the command "don't you call anybody else baby." The song is dark, lonely, and haunting; the creepiest and most awesome lullaby you will ever hear.

"Majesty" is a very progressive song that tries to remain as a bare-bones guitar and vocal song, but the other band members jump in halfway and make everything flourish for a little bit before withdrawing, leaving you with just with the guitar and vocals again until they come back for the remainder of the song.

Warpaint's sound makes me feel like I am floating on water, and the last song on the album, "Lissie's Heart Murmur," slowly makes you feel like you are drowning, from lyrics saying, "I sink so far down," to vocal effects that make Emily sound like she is underwater - what a perfect way to end an album made by witchcraft.

The lyrics of the songs sound like they are words directed towards a significant other, which make sense since the album is called "The Fool," suggesting it is about the foolish things a girl has done or dealt with in relationships. The basis for the lyrics sounds fairly usual, but they are sung in a haunting way that makes them so hard to understand that they sound more otherworldly, confusing, and deep than they probably are.

I only have one criticism: Because Warpaint goes all out, utilizing all of their tricks and demonstrating everyone's talents in each song, every song sounds similar, making it hard to find the special points that distinguish some songs from each other. But overall, the album solidly exhibits the original unique  sound created by Warpaint and deserves praise.

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