Warpaint are on the verge of something big. Since 2009’s soporific ‘Exquisite Corpse’ the quartet have been shifting their sound, trading in their post-punk pelts in order to hunt down bigger game on the vast plains of pop. Their knack for melodic vocal hooks has become more pronounced on each successive album, while their reliance on prickly guitar licks has diminished to such an extent that you could forget that they’ve worked with not one but two Red Hot Chilli Peppers guitarists over the past decade. Sure, it’s easy at times to miss the chilly ice-pick riffs of their earlier days. But, seeing as we now have Pumarosa, SEXWITCH and Anna Calvi to fill that void, there’s no harm done.
‘Heads Up’ represents the next measured step in the band’s plans for eventual chart domination. It’s the kind of record that’ll make you reach for the hairbrush microphone and throw some seriously diva-like shapes at the bathroom mirror. In a more accommodating universe the tropical house squeals of ‘New Song’ would have propelled it cackling up to the highest echelons of the charts, pausing only to flip the bird at DJ Snake along the way. It’s a deliciously euphoric slice of dancefloor-friendly pop that deserves to be played on repeat during the next few weeks’ awkward, inaugural freshers’ pre-drinks. Combine this with a few of the unreasonably savage drinking games you found on a badly-written Tab article and you’ll be making lifelong friends in no time.
Even though the rest of the album can’t really match ‘New Song’ in the stone-cold banger stakes, the band’s obsession with artists like Rihanna, Sia and Carly Rae Jepsen keeps finding new and interesting ways to manifest itself. The aptly-named ‘So Good’ begins with a rhythm section throb so austere and menacing you expect Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson to pop up and start spraying profanities in a 360-degree arc. Then, without warning, the beat switches up and singers Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman break into the kind of clipped pop-ready vocals you might hear Lady Gaga singing in the shower. Elsewhere, the wonky beats of opener ‘Whiteout’ trundle along under some characteristically ethereal harmonies, while midway through ‘The Stall’ Jenny Lee Lindberg drops an urgent Chemical Brothers bassline to transform the track into a more dab-friendly version of the Atoms For Peace cut ‘Ingenue’.
Lyrically the Warpaint women strike a supportive, no-nonsense tone. It’s as though you’re two weeks in to a post-breakup mope and they’ve decided it’s their mission to kick you out of bed, dress you in something that’s not a toothbrush-stained school leaver’s hoodie, and hit up some cocktail bars. “Now I know I’m not alone / Got my girls I’m not alone,” sings Wayman like she knows your shitty boyfriend is going to break up with you after just two weeks at Sheffield Hallam, leaving you stuck bawling your heart out to a bunch of near-strangers. Did Warpaint’s label choose a fresher-friendly release date on purpose? You have to wonder…
Strength through unity is the message here, and it’s one Warpaint themselves have been relearning since their own intensive tour schedule nearly led to their own breakup last year. Instead of throwing in the towel they convinced one another that they needed to take a break and develop themselves as individual musicians before coming back to work an material they were really convinced about. Thank God they did, because the positive energy on this album is palpable, especially when you compare it to the impenetrable, if beautiful, mystique of their sophomore.
The only issue with ‘Heads Up’ is that it sounds like a transition album. You get the distinct feeling when listening to it that their next album could be something special, maybe an uninhibited exploration of the band’s poppier side? At this stage Warpaint still have their boots in two camps: the icy cool of their indie heritage and the open-hearted joy of the kind of music they clearly want to make. As the album progresses the vibrancy that decorates its first half starts to brown, finally leaving only the wintry majesty of ‘Above Control’ and ‘Today Dear’ to end the album on a rather blue note. But isn’t that a real representation of your first term at university? Boozy post-breakup recovery through September and October followed by intellectual disillusionment and mind-numbing cold in November and December? This means that, with any luck, the next Warpaint album will be a spring release, chock-full of bona fide bangers to soundtrack sloppy snogathons at your grubby Student Union.
If so then count your blessings. All we had was Gotye and Gangnam Style.
Words: Josh Gray
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