HEADS UP by Warpaint
Genre: Indie Rock
Favorite Tracks: “White Out,” “Don’t Let Go,” “Dre”
Girl groups don’t get enough credit these days, but leave it to Warpaint to slide suave, seductive femininity into the dark, male-driven LA art rock scene. The girl group’s captivating new record, HEADS UP, instantly transports listeners to foggy, afterhour clubs via sensual bass rhythms, dreamlike, languid melodies, and heady, low-slung drumlines. The past few records from the group were simply leading up to this: a remarkable show of mature, individual musicians producing a collective, interwoven sound. Strength through unity becomes the driving force in HEADS UP, as heard through their tight harmonies and intricate instrumental parts. HEADS UP has listeners supremely excited for what’s to come next, and hopefully the new girl groups the album might inspire.
Warpaint acts as the lo-fi counterpart to polished girl group Haim. They got their start from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ guitarist mixing their EP, but had trouble finding their own unique sound. Gaining confidence from their cover of David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes,” Warpaint released their debut the following year. They have finally come into their own and embraced their carefully crafted sound with HEADS UP, making it the best record of their career. This is remarkable because Warpaint almost called it quits last year due to their intensive touring. Instead of throwing in the towel, the group took a break to develop their own individual musical styles before coming back together for this record. The positive feelings of camaraderie really come together, especially compared to their sophomore self-titled album.
Warpaint’s resilience is paramount: Girl groups need to stick together, especially considering how few dominate LA venues like the Echo or the Satellite. The LA scene has been predominantly male and predominantly punk-derived, the sound having become darker and grungier in the past couple years. What’s spectacular about Warpaint is that they’re not a sugar pop group, but an art rock group competing with the big boys in dark, edgy lo-fi territory. Girl groups often stray from this side of rock for commercial success, but now we have a group of women not afraid to insert themselves in the scene. These are confident adults who aren’t afraid to kick ass, and hopefully will inspire more girl groups to take the reins. Their confidence in terms of their place in this scene is what makes this record so alluring.
The encompassing shadowy atmosphere of the record is a double-edged sword. Timing is everything with HEADS UP; the wrong mood can turn its intoxicatingly soothing sound into dreary, sleepy-eyed monotony. The right mood can recreate that rare, low-lit, comedown-like bliss found after midnight. This is the kind of club music to sway to, full of sensual rhythms and magnetic vocals. HEADS UP is a showcase of Warpaint coming into their own and making a wonderful, vixenish record.
Rhythmic details and reverb-heavy sound mixing are what makes this album superb. Warpaint’s impenetrable command of rhythm ensures a seemingly effortless amount of coolness and intensity for each song. In interviews, the group said they wanted the album to be more representative of the excitement of their live shows, and we can see that across the record. “Whiteout” grabs listeners by the lapels with a deep, sultry beat that feeds into wafting harmonies that are reminiscent of R&B. “New Song” is a catchy, pop-driven tune that avoids becoming too vanilla thanks to Warpaint’s trademark synth-like smokiness. “Don’t Let Go” is a romantic ballad, rich with luscious, shoegazing distortion and a soft chorus akin to Beach House. “Dre” is full of slow-burning backings and woozy guitar lines. There can be no signs of uncertainty when they’re competing with the “big boys” for club play and shows in LA. Girls are here, and here to stay.
Warpaint has done a spectacular job finding an original sound: one that is bewitching and hypnotic. HEADS UP is a huge advance in Warpaint’s career and proves girl groups have a place in art rock. If you don’t jive with this record on first listen, give it another try later on in the night. HEADS UP rewards listeners with a mesmerizing atmosphere to groove to and alluring melodies for nodding, half-lidded eyes. Keep an eye out for similar acts inspired by this record in the near future.