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Warpaint - Heads Up (Album Review)

Friday, 30 September 2016 Written by Ben Bland

Warpaint are, perhaps, one of those bands who can’t really win in the eyes of some of their detractors. When New Song, the first single from their third album, ‘Heads Up’, debuted a couple of months ago one could scarcely stream it without tripping over internet commentators disgruntled at its funky pop bravado. This air of disgruntlement jars, of course, with previous criticisms that the group has been too focused on whimsical dream pop atmospherics at the expense of direct songwriting.

In truth, it also jars with the overall sound of ‘Heads Up’. If there is a central disappointment to this album it’s not that it’s too poppy or (whisper it) mainstream in sound, but actually that it isn’t poppy enough. New Song is one of the best and, by virtue of its sheer disco-drenched directness, one of the most distinctive outings in the Warpaint catalogue, but most of its accompanying album is composed of the sort of mid-paced, dreamy material we’ve come to expect from the band.

Having said that, ‘Heads Up’ sees Warpaint hone their craft in a more convincing manner than 2014’s self-titled sophomore effort, which ultimately felt both overlong and underdeveloped despite containing a smattering of great tracks.

Perhaps crucially the band have gone back to working with Jake Bercovici, who produced their 2009 debut EP ‘Exquisite Corpse’. Flood may be a great producer, but he presided over a second album that occasionally lapsed into muddy terrain.   

On ‘Heads Up’ this problem is resolved largely because of a more consistently powerful bass sound. Openers Whiteout and By Your Side establish this early on, and New Song then invigorates the album in a way the previous album’s highlight, Disco//Very, never could by virtue of its mid-album placement.

This is vital, allowing ‘Heads Up’ to build up a powerful head of steam. It’s only in the middle of the album, especially on the rather lackadaisical Don’t Wanna, that things briefly go astray, but ‘Heads Up’ is then rescued by an excellent closing run of tracks that rivals any stretch on Warpaint’s previous albums.

The rhythm section of Jenny Lee Lindberg and (in particular) drummer Stella Mozgawa are the stars here. The shimmering guitars of Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman have always been slightly too dominant in the past but that’s put to rest here, where the balancing act is superb. Dre and Above Control showcase this brilliantly by subtly combining the lush art-rock flourishes of 2010’s debut LP ‘The Fool’ with chunkier grooves that accentuate the band’s knack for charming melodies.

So, even if ‘Heads Up’ is not the leap into a new world that some may have (unfairly) feared, it is Warpaint comprehensively proving themselves to be the multi-faceted songwriters that they are. This is certainly the quartet’s finest, and most cohesive, collection of songs to date.

Warpaint Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat October 22 2016 - BRISTOL Colston Hall
Sun October 23 2016 - EDINBURGH Queen's Hall, Edinburgh
Mon October 24 2016 - MANCHESTER Albert Hall
Wed October 26 2016 - LIVERPOOL Dome at Grand Central Hall
Thu October 27 2016 - LONDON Roundhouse

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