Run for the hills! They’re coming! Forget the cat, the car and the kids just bloody run! Leggit! Save yourself! Get off the grid! Change your name to Ralph! OK, a slight exaggeration for whimsical merriment but make no mistake Warpaint’s debut The Fool is bloody terrifying. So terrifying that I recommend you remind yourself “It’s only a record, it’s only a record”. Even then I can’t guarantee your safety. It could end like that film Ring with the smokin’ LA quartet crawling from the speakers and beating you up in the comfort of your front room.
“Poppycock!!”, I hear you protest, “Dr. Hipster says buy, buy, buy, and they sure look wholesome. Why on earth should I be t-t-terrified?” Well, yes, you sexist goon, they are agreeably hot property in every sense. Yes, and they once counted stone foxx Shannyn Sossamon amongst their ranks. But don’t be glamour’d by surface. A picture postcard of sunshine, cream teas and scones disguise what is effectively Fight Club. By the guillotine drop of the curtain closer you’ll have learnt to fear your own shadow…
The Fool takes that vintage formula of shoe gazin’, pot chuffin’, garage band janglin’ indie à la Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts, Black Tambourine and, well, attaches ten tonne balls. From opener “Set Your Arms Down”, the ‘Warning! Trouble at Mill!’ alarm is constantly ringing. What typically promises a cheeky wink and a fanciful skip across a meadow soon runs into stormy weather and thunder. Lots of thunder. “We walk through fire / My love is your flashlight,” sighs Emily Kokal. Aw shucks, that’s so cute! Then suddenly a twist, “They wanna fight me / They wanna fight”. EH??! From holding hands to hands around your neck in the blink of an eye. Just like real love right kids? The romance, nodding dog grooves and ‘Hey don’t Bogart that joint’ stoner dandelions blow away as an eight mile high military tattoo towers down from the mountains. “Go home to your knitting boys,” pipes the bugler.
Beware of girls in gangs I was always told. True dat. Warpaint en masse are Clockwork Orange droogs, albeit channelling Emily Dickinson and sporting fancier haircuts. If you see the shadows… it’s too late! Schoolgirl chants beckon in “Composure” with its schizophrenic time shifts and twitching “How can I keep my composure?” ticks. Oh Lordy here come the harmonies! Sweet Jesus there’s four of ‘em! Hit the deck! There’s nobody here but us chickens, honest.
There are tranquil moments when you’ll lower your guard. Don’t. On “Shadows”, Kokal sounds exhausted and lost like the last soul on Earth, “I’m drunk and I’m tired.” Heavenly acoustics serenade her, “I feel like a shadow.” I ain’t gonna fall for that again missy. This girl’s got teeth Officer. Once the drum ‘n’ bass heavies show up, it kicks off “What did you whisper in my ear? / The lies! / The lies!” RIGHT! EVERYBODY OUT! CALL 911! It’s a haunting, mesmerising tune but just watch your head as that pendulum swings from ‘LOVE’ to ‘DESTROY EVERYTHING’. Similarly breathtaking is “Baby”. But this baby will tolerate no coochy-cooing. It may caress lullaby lush like Mazzy Star but keep your eye on the horizon. “You live your life like a page from the book of my fantasy.” Oooh, honey! “Don’t you call anybody else baby!” Whoop there y’go! It’s like getting a Valentine’s from Don Corleone. It’s passion with enough love to smother you with. Literally.
As well as claws, these girls got serious skills. The rhythm section, particularly Stella Mozgawa’s powerhouse drums, is tougher than Tyson. Muscular, inventive, unpredictable. Definitely a stronghold in Warpaint’s armoury. Often I pictured dream team montages of Johnny Marr jamming with the Stone Roses’ drummer Reni—but y’know in heels. The sweetheart harmonies and sharp lyrics too provide a dramatic counterpoint to the breakin’ thunder landscapes. That said, only single “Undertow” has serious radio friendly unit shifter ambitions. “Your brown eyes in my blues skies / They light up the rivers and let the birds fly over.” Oui ma chérie, it’s bringing sexy back. “Nobody else has to find out / What’s in my mind tonight.” OK, less Fred ‘n’ Ginger more Nicholson ‘n’ Lange sweeping the kitchen table bare in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Hot diggity damn! Did I forget to mention The Fool is somewhat, somehow sultry?
But it’s when you glimpse Warpaint’s heart that The Fool really scores. “Majesty” has vocals as intimate as Stina Nordenstam’s and enough sad trippy fizz to rival Crystal Castles. The lyrics are swoonsome and for once the sword remains undrawn. “When I helped you / You still went the other way / Could it be I don’t want it anyway / Could it be as sad as that?” In other words, “Don’t bother coming back for your clothes Daddio.” This time the dagger to thine heart is not fuck-off car crash drums but a simple “You could have been my king.”
The Fool spends eight tracks scaling the mountain and the ninth jumping off. “Lissie’s Heart Murmur’s” crushing piano riff is as teary blubsome as R.E.M.‘s “Perfect Circle”. The revolutionary beret tilts to recast Kokal as broken chanteuse. Stop the world I’m getting off, “On the edge of the world / I can’t go back.” The youthful, no future martyr of classic Shangri-La’s drops to its dizzying demise. You’ll feel oddly disorientated when it’s all over as if frozen bewitched and suddenly released back to reality.
If there’s weakness in The Fool (besides the modesty of hummable tunes), it’s that you instinctively dress for stormy weather. Take their battle cry theme tune, “Warpaint”. Innocent angelic voices tempt you in like pink kittens. Aah Ma, can we keep one? The dandy stroll becomes a frenzied gallop and shaboom! you’re circled by Metallica worthy dramatics, Wicker Man sacrifices and the sharpening of knives. These wolves are hungry and “The world is bursting open.” Ditto “Bees” which broods like My Bloody Valentine covering “Misty Mountain Hop”. Like its sister songs there’s a bad moon rising. “Your full moon taunts me” (probably not Keith Moon’s type of full moon). Gothic chills, Bonham battleship drums and chiming guitars flap unbound like bats. Occasionally it all leaves you pining rainbows.
But escape is impossible! Warpaint play with you dearest reader like a spider does a fly, like a cat will a mouse. Alas my warnings will undoubtedly fall on deaf ears and Warpaint will swallow your soul whole as they did mine. I should imagine they’ll be more of us down here soon. In fact sack all these warnings just lie back and enjoy its bite. Why fight fate? Take the easy way and give in, and aaaah let them in…
// Notes from the Road
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