In 2014, Radiohead is still a hard band to criticize. Though their recent output has been moody, atmospheric, and for many, takes some patience and investment to enjoy, most wouldn’t argue against their creativity and refusal to color within the lines. Regardless of whether or not you like it, it is easy to respect.
This can often feel like the exact opposite aim of radio-aspiring pop artists, who want to, er, need to hook you on first listen, knowing they might not even get a second chorus to make their impression upon you. How Radiohead ascended in this kind of music world is explained by their early albums, which were of the first-listen, play-100-times-over-and-over-again accessible variety that never goes out of style. The journey to here has been gradual, and people have gone along willingly for the ride.
Now, who knows if Warpaint will one day ascend to Radiohead-status, and the music doesn’t exactly sound like music Radiohead has made, but it does sound like music that Radiohead could be making, at present-day, with all that they’ve done before them informing them. This could be a huge compliment or a disclaimer depending on what you like. But both groups are similar in their unwillingness to make music that compromises with what people would expect, or even prefer. The deep groove of the rhythm section on openers “Intro” and “Keep It Healthy” can go as far as to evoke a dancing Thom Yorke image in the mind if you close your eyes really tight.
Of course, Warpaint may have the years together to have built a significant fanbase—having formed nearly 10 years prior—but with just a single previous LP and EP, Warpaint do not have the Radiohead progression to keep people on board. They never had a Bends or OK Computer or “Creep” to hook us. But, as some of this trail has been blazed to this point, they do have many potential listeners who appreciate cerebral and evocative tunes, or those who simply don’t require the instantly affecting or repeatable. Asking for effort on the part of the audience, in an era where some demand music to hold them down against their will, is a risk, but Warpaint is the better for it.
Lyrically, Warpaint seems to have similar issues on its collective mind, with the past, relationships and the interplay between tranquility and turmoil found consistently in both full-lengths. The band offers little help illuminating their intentions outside of the words and the often haunting, emotionally-driven sonics, which remain mostly cloaked, giving only the passing glimpse of their glimmering eyes or half-smile or some other singular divulgence.
The band has described their music as four distinct personalities going to battle, and they pushed the issue by secluding themselves in Joshua Tree for three weeks to make the majority of the album. Strangely, the fallout is harmonious. The most combative track, “Disco//Very” also sees the girls singing as group, and despite the violent imagery of a “battle” and “tear[ing] you in two,” the women, working in unison, don’t feel like they’re fighting each other, but rather teaming to fight anyone else. On “CC,” again the band seems to be working as one despite the multitude of voices, all now left fiending for an abstract relief, be it human or chemical. If there is something to get out of Warpaint as a whole, it is that there is strength in numbers, that these four are better off together than they are apart.
If this all sounds vague and abstract, that’s pretty much what we are dealing with. Warpaint is an album for feeling more than contemplating, music for the moment of experience. This could be seen as a weakness, but why? Its effect is much tougher to replicate than pop structures, and by slipping into the subconscious when your guard is down, the music can rest dormant, waiting for a trigger to make its presence known. It’s hard to say if listeners in 2014 will give it the attention it needs to cast that spell. But as an experience, Warpaint have crafted an album that is ultimately rewarding and full of promise, with the listener excited to see Warpaint push their vision further, believing that the road is worth the effort.