Fans of Warpaint may have shit their pants when they first heard the band’s new song and new single, 'New Song', with its bold trip-pop leanings, somewhat simplified lyricism, and repetitive chorus. Although it's true Warpaint have tweaked their sound for the funky-in-spots-poetics of Heads Up, it’s not the seismic, blasphemous shift into radio-glory-land the single would suggest. The band is working comfortably on the outskirts of what qualifies as mainstream. While Theresa Wayman joined the supergroup BOSS, bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg went to work on her stellar solo project right on! and drummer Stella Mozgawa lended her talents to Kurt Vile’s b’lieve i’m goin’ down… last year, the band managed to come back to the studio with a more focused mindset. Still, Warpaint is remaining steadfast to the funereal, wayward, and trance-like psychedelic ambiance that hooked fans in the first place.
Usually with a band like Warpaint, that cursory listen you give to pop-sugar bands just won’t do. Most of their songs are meant to sit and harvest, lest someone miss even a morsel of the creative nuance taking place. But for much of Heads Up, that nuance is used to create bouncy, hearty dance instrumentals. Although the band has been compared to a lot acts, it’s clear they don’t want to be compared to anyone but themselves this time. A lot of the songs on Heads Up feature a more focused attempt to drape their sonic output in the trip-hop and synth-oriented R&B feel the band has exhibited in the past with songs like 'Disco//Very', while still blending in the dirgelike vocals they are known for.
It takes a lot of talent for an already experimental band to work within the formula that helped them achieve success and expand on it without completely forsaking their roots. With the help of producer Jacob Bercovici, who worked on the band on their launchpad debut EP Exquisite Corpse, the band is able to find beauty in simplicity. 'White Out' feels like an amalgam of everything the band has done to this point; a song that’s catchy without being overtly so, delving in rich elegies, and exploring their favourite topic in cryptic vocals - love. 'So Good' finds Theresa Wayman fawning over a seemingly foolproof lover with an attached lush bass groove that is more in line with 'New Song' than 'Undertow'. 'The Stall' is a little heavier on bass and assimilated instrumentation, but not made the better for it.
But Heads Up isn’t laced in any sort of particular sound or milieu, rather a mixed-bag of sorts. It’s true most of the lyrics have been peeled down, but not necessarily dumbed down. Throughout the album, even on the tracks that don’t percolate, the band exhibits a new level of maturity and confidence in their direction that is wholly refreshing. 'Don’t Let Go' is heavy on bass, Mozgawa’s excellent drumming, and lyrics that are curtailed to not only match the wistful tone but enhance it. Other tracks on the album evoke Exquisite Corpse and their eponymous LP with a more seasoned edge. 'Heads Up', the title track, commences as a slow piano-laden ballad, but quickly transforms into something bordering on psychedelic surf rock.
Warpaint are nothing if not ambitious, which is doubly proved on Heads Up. Sometimes this makes for delicious moments, like their hip hop-laced-with-quiet-lulling on 'Dre'. But other times the band is operating in too many directions at once, like 'Above Ground'. But even though it goes against the laws of music criticism somewhat, and may even sound like a cop out, the truth is that most Warpaint songs take a lot of time to develop in the cerebral cortex, so songs that don’t necessarily strike a chord now may evolve into mainstays after enough spins. One thing that’s clear is the band is moving in a fascinating direction, finally exuding the extreme level of confidence needed to pull of all their myriad tricks and join together all the many creative ideas in their head.
7Kellan Miller's Score