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Warpaint
The Fool Tom Hawking , November 12th, 2010 11:55

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For the latest celebrity-endorsed blog sensation, and an allegedly "experimental art rock band" to boot, Warpaint make curiously inscrutable music. On the basis of this debut album, at least – a record to which they've apparently been working up for six years, making them an embodiment of the music industry cliché that overnight success rarely comes overnight – they're neither particularly experimental nor really art rock-influenced. What they are is harder to pinpoint.

This is a strangely blank, faceless album. It's pretty, sure. It's well-recorded and multi-layered, full of harmonies and melodies that catch the ear. But it evades engagement. It's not a record that connects with the listener. It's not terrible, it's not great, it just... is.

The best songs here are the most direct ones – the faintly ominous 'Baby', for instance, which begins with the lines "Don't you call anybody else 'baby'/Cos I'm your baby still", and is the closest any song on the album comes to any sort of open emotional expression. Then there's first single 'Undertow', which lifts the chorus melody from Nirvana's 'Polly' and recasts it as snappy riposte to... whom? A former lover, perhaps? As ever with this record, meaning is difficult to grasp. Still, it's a great song, uncoiling itself languorously over the course of nearly six minutes and never overstaying its welcome.

At other times, though, the band's sound drifts off into complete abstraction, and it's at this point that you find your attention wandering. 'Composure', 'Majesty', 'Lissie's Heart Murmur'... These songs drift by in a haze of reverb and harmonies, one blending into another. Emily Kokal told the Interview a while back that you're meant to listen to this album stoned, and at times, listening to it feels like being stoned – that curiously claustrophobic feeling you get, sitting in a room that seems smaller than it was a couple of minutes ago, and all of a sudden you're thinking about something else and a new song has started... or wait, is it still the same song?

As a whole, The Fool is a strange album, one that hints at depths below the melodic surface, but ultimately keeps those depths guarded. It feels consistently introverted and self-absorbed – and the latter adjective isn't meant in a pejorative sense, more that it's almost like you've come across a tape Warpaint made for themselves and themselves only. Whether this is beguiling or frustrating is up to the individual listener.

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John Calvert
Nov 12, 2010 5:14pm

Finally, a voice of reason! I'm dumbfounded as to why this record has captured everyone's imagination the way it has. It's like a conspiracy. I neither dislike it, or like it, but I've listened to it right through about five times and I can't remember a single thing about it. There's no real atmosphere, there's no taste to it, and no personality, yet still to call it bland wouldn't be absolutelty fair. "It just is"

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JT
Nov 14, 2010 2:16pm

sloppy, sloppy: i just clicked your link to read the NME bit, and they are actually quoting an interview that they did in Interview, which if you actually read it, sounds like they were mostly joking or being funny about the stoned thing. subtext, guys. you've gotta go further than a headline. try harder.

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Tom
Nov 14, 2010 6:17pm

In reply to JT:

Thanks for pointing this out, JT. I did indeed miss the "...told interviewmagazine.com", although I also didn't fail to "go further than the headline". You're right, it was sloppy to misattribute the quote - I'll ask Luke to fix this.

I disagree that the quote wasn't serious, though – or, at least, with your implication that it was completely tongue-in-cheek. Here's the full exchange:

STEPHENSON: Sure. I noticed the tracks are bookended by two longer song titles.

MOZGAWA: Wait, what? I didn't think about that...that's pretty cool.

KOKAL: Yeah, it's true. I don't think that was intentional.

JENNY LEE LINDBERG: It's stoner order. We made this album to listen to stoned. Originally, "Set Your Arms Down," the first song, ended the album and "Lissie's Heart Murmur" started it.

KOKAL: Yeah, we definitely recommend listening to the new album after smoking. It's the best.

They were joshing about, clearly, but I reckon there's more than a grain of truth in it.

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Nick
Nov 17, 2010 8:07pm

Yeh interesting review; I pretty much agree. However I did feel "Composure" was very direct, (absolutely and relative to the rest of the record).

As an aside, while the songs aren't amazing on record, their atmospheric quality made them incredibly immersive live. Live rock is of course more raw, but the difference with Warpaint was massive. Best gig I've seen for ages.

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D. Janes
Nov 18, 2010 7:59pm

I thought I was going crazy but finally someone tells it like it is. I tried so hard to like this band since everyone tells me I'm supposed to. But, they are so boring and 'meh'. 6 years writing *this* album?

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Stick
Nov 19, 2010 3:26pm

I thought that live they went on far too long - the audience would clap at the natural end point to a song only for the band to start up again and jam on the riff for another five minutes! This is true to a slightly lesser degree on record. Some great vocal melodies, and I love the suspended chords behind the song "Warpaint" itself, but it does come across as "stoner" music in the sense of being disconnected and meandering. I thought this was a very accurate review - I'm kinda stumped on my opinion of the album because there are some bits I think are fantastic, but there seems to be a piece missing I can't put my finger on. Cringe-inducing audience interaction as well now I come to think of it, I really missed out on their supposed "live magic".

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