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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Warpaint’s Four-Piece Vision

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Ask musicians about the difference between their first and second albums, and they’ll often say the same thing. Debut albums are frequently a long time coming, collecting songs that artists wrote and refined over long stretches. Sophomore albums, on the other hand, stem from clean slates, and their gestation periods tend to be far shorter. That was especially true for the Los Angeles band Warpaint, whose debut EP and album were built from songs the band had been kicking around for as long as five years. The group’s new self-titled album, by comparison, was created in a relative flash.

“It was one of those things where the record came together real quickly,” says bassist/singer Jenny Lee Lindberg. “All the songs were written real fast, not because we were rushing them, but because that’s what our process was this time.”

The difference is night and day. Where the expansive post-punk tunes on the group’s 2010 full-length debut The Fool were fine-tuned and precise, the songs on Warpaint feel like they’re being born in real time. It’s not that they sound unfinished, per se—although a few do play like first takes—but rather that they capture the thrill of discovery. Warpaint is the work of a band trusting their instincts and running with them.

“We were all really antsy to get in there and write,” Lindberg says. “We were feeling really creative and very inspired, so when we started writing it was an anything-goes type of thing. The only thing we were mindful of was to be very minimal, and to keep space for each other. With this album, we wanted to be able to express ourselves individually, and make sure that everybody’s voice was heard, but in a way that wasn’t overbearing. On our last record, there were more instruments being played at one time, and there was a lot to pick apart. So I think we came into this record with the mindset of, ‘Let’s step back a bit. Let’s not say too much at one time.’”

That minimalist approach lends Warpaint a unique feel. With less going on in these songs, you can actually hear more, and barren as it can seem on the surface, the album is woven from a rich tapestry of beat-heavy trip-hop, dubby post-punk and ghostly R&B. It’s frequently brooding, intermittently sexy and always somehow evasive.

Warpaint
can also claim perhaps the most fitting cover art of any album released this year. Against a backdrop of negative space, apparitional images of the four women in the band are imposed over each other, forming one continuous mass. You can stare at it for minutes and still lose track of where one figure begins and another ends. That’s as apt a description as any for what the album sounds like. Throughout these songs, all four players take turns singing, with guitarist/keyboardists Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman—once the band’s nominal leads—ceding space to Lindberg and drummer Stella Mozgawa. Throughout the recording sessions the women swapped instruments as the mood struck them. There was no defined division of labor.

That communal approach, and that disregard for the traditional front-person/backing-band dynamic that drives most indie rock, “definitely requires a lot more work,” Lindberg says, “but I think that’s what makes our band special. I’ve said before that sometimes it feels like a blessing and a curse that we write songs all together, because it does take more time. But it’s also what keeps us interested in being in this band. It’s not just one vision, it’s four. It’s more fun that way.”

Warpaint opens for Nick Cave Friday, June 20, at the Milwaukee Theatre at 8 p.m.