“All those moments trying to figure me out never seem to come around.” This lyric perfectly captures the tone of the eponymous sophomore effort of Emily Kokal’s Los Angeles-based band, Warpaint. A puzzling album, Warpaint’s gritty texture and nocturnal melodies prove distinct, and yet they keep a familiarity with classic shoegaze.
The album opens lackadaisically with “Intro.” Twelve seconds in, the music stops. “Sorry,” Kokal says, and the band starts over. The purposeful mess-up is peculiar but it’s also indicative of the active participation the band expects of its listeners: this a serious, introspective album.
The LP begins painting its immersive, post-rock soundscapes in “Keep It Healthy.” Reminiscent of the crashing kick drum and understated reverb of DIIV or MBV, the track crescendos in “Love Is To Die.” Like the album itself, Warpaint’s lyrics are contradictory. “Love is to die/ Love is to not die” Kokal croons over a glossy and refined refrain.
The rich, nocturnal fourth track “Hi” announces a transition from Warpaint’s shoegaze comfort zone to a hazy synth, like the downtempo outfit Portishead. Unfortunately, it follows the album’s emotional beginning with little more than a lifeless blob of base lines and vocal reverb.
As the album drags on, it gets more and more repetitive, soon entering the realm of monotony. Bizarrely, its eighth track, “Go In,” takes an industrial turn. These weird, ineffective forays into various tangential sub-genres are futile. Rather than bolstering Kokal’s compelling and mysterious vocals, the genre-hopping makes her sound little more than whiny.
Despite this, Warpaint ends on an ostensible high note with the baleful ballad “Son.” Its vocals are moving and weather-beaten. But, as if expecting mixed reviews, Kokal uses the track to declare, “[you] can’t hear anyone tell you what you like.”
This childish lyric doesn’t save the album, though, particularly on account of a melodic disunity between Kokal and guitarist Theresa Wayman. The attitude voiced here instead contributes to the general monotony that surrounds the work.
Warpaint feels like the rough draft for an exceptional album, echoing Kokal’s apology in its first few seconds. The somnolent soundscapes could be comforting for a walk back from Lau in the dead of winter. But, on the whole, Warpaint feels unmoored, lost in its own dark and stormy sea.
Voice’s Choices: “Keep It Healthy,” “Love Is To Die”