I first heard Warpaint when a series of clips was doing the rounds – particularly this song they had called Billie Holiday. Beguiling. Deceptive. Strangely perfect. Hypnotic. Those words describe a lot of the music Warpaint has gone on to make too. I was further hooked from first listens to their debut full-lengther, The Fool. But actually it was the early EP that – at that point – told the real story.
There was a big break between records – four years. In that time I kept listening to the Exquisite Corpse EP and the Rough Trade Session set of recordings.
When the band’s self-titled sophomore effort landed that’s when I realised that Warpaint was my new favourite musical group. Not just “new favourite” actually. Favourite. The perfect combination of obvious influences (Peter Hook basslines, The Cure and 4AD bands’ textural, washy guitar spirals) combining to create something new.
Last year the band’s bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg (recording as jennylee) released a very good solo album. It sounds a lot like Warpaint. No surprise – she’s one of the band’s vocalists, her basslines are part of the crucial glue and her solo album featured her partner in rhythm, the band’s drummer Stella Mozgawa.
This year after all working on side-projects and solo recordings the four band members returned to Warpaint as the focus and they’ve just released the brand new album, Heads Up. It continues the evolution of the group’s sound, bring in new dynamics and a great catchy pop single in the overtly titled New Song.
Warpaint formed just over a decade ago and had a catchy back-story in a way, Lindberg’s sister the actress Shannyn Sossamon was the band’s original drummer. She had been DJing around Hollywood too and with movie-star connections there was a bit of talk about the band. Sossamon left to pursue her main job and the band’s secret weapon (or perhaps not-so-secret, it certainly seems obvious to my ears) was the drafting in of Australian drummer Stella Mozgawa.
You have possibly heard Mozgawa in some other contexts, on albums by Kurt Vile and on the brand new Kim Gordon single. She’s also recorded with Tom Jones and Cate Le Bon and, as mentioned, is a crucial component not only to Warpaint but to the sound of the jennylee record too. She’s part of the songwriting process within the band and plays keyboards on the recordings too, sometimes adding guitar.
But her drumming is precise – and gives the songs their lift. She is the reason this band really pops; bringing the music to life.
Previous Warpaint albums and EPs have worked despite – as much as because of – the band’s languid, textural approach. Songs meander about without even turning quite into songs, more presenting a mood, a feel, a vibe. The band had a great live reputation and that’s continued across the last decade. There’s great playing on the records too and a wonderful carefree attitude that extends to the group’s videos and marketing. This is a band making music for themselves as much as for an audience. That remains on Heads Up but the songwriting is stronger, the guitars still circle each other and leave trailing threads, but the rhythm section is so precise and – yes – melodic and the band’s dynamic interplay exists not just as party-trick but as part of the song-shaping process now too. Heads Up showcases a band of great collaborative songwriters. It is their best work.
But you can’t go wrong with Warpaint.
They’ve been one of my favourite groups across the last decade – particularly the last half-decade. Not a foot wrong, and getting better with each release if anything. That should always be the goal but most bands rest on laurels, ride along on the cloud of smoke that’s been blown up their butt by fans. I don’t hear that with this group. I just hear the magic they make.