Headphones not allowed: Warpaint album review

The Spectrum

Album: Warpaint

Artist: Warpaint

Label: Rough Trade Records

Release: Jan. 17

Grade: B+

Warpaint took three years to release its second album, the self-titled Warpaint, but the four-piece ensemble is here to show listeners that the band is as musically strong as it's ever been despite rumors of disunity.

It's undeniable that Warpaint is distinctly more understated than the group's 2010 album, The Fool.But its understated nature doesn't prevent the album from engaging its audience, especially those who are willing to listen.

The album tackles the theme of modern love - a motif often greeted with cynicism thanks its current popularity in the music industry. And with that skepticism, certain images spring to mind: the manufactured boy band representation of love, the Taylor Swift bitterness of soured relationships and the devastatingly sad lyrics born out of unrequited Indie love. But Warpaint succeeds in its new interpretation of an old theme.

The tracks aren't responses to a particular break-up or songs that have been bred from the tears and longing of an unloved band member. Instead, the album features unglamorous musings on the beauty of love's ambiguity. There's doubt and confusion as well as a large dollop of romance - it's right and it's real.

"Love is to Die" and "Keep it Healthy" are tracks that define the cryptic elegance of the album. Both tracks are brooding and darkly sexy, allowing them to lure you into submission. Despite the gloomy tone, there's a sense of optimism - these tracks are engaging and surprisingly fun.

"Teese" embodies the album as a whole. It contradicts itself continuously. The lyrics are urgent and gluttonous in their demands, with an energetic confession of the need for more - "I want more / I need more now / I'm in heaven / I can't get enough" - yet the vocal tone remains drowsy and nonchalant. There's a folk guitar sound that transforms itself into a grumble of bass lines and a delicate keyboard.

Nothing goes together, but there's an irrefutable unity.

This is what Warpaint's new sound is about: an uneasiness and unsteadiness that requires patience and teasing to find the brilliance. It isn't aesthetic music, the kind of music that is instantaneous and recognizable, but it is brilliant and intriguing in its elegant intelligence. And let's not forget the importance of the contradicting instruments like a lightly played keyboard and a heavy bass line, which are perfectly matched and balanced.

For each standout track that Warpaint offers its listeners, however, there are tracks that can be easily forgotten. These tracks feel like they were thrown onto the album to fill space.

"Feeling Alright" and "CC" are unmemorable fragments of the album and act as a confusing padding between the tracks that give the album its real essence. Instead of light relief, they're hard work for the listener.

In addition to these anomalous songs, the complexity of the album poses the risk of losing listeners within its blurred brilliance. It's an album that only distinguishes itself on second and third listens.

On first listen, the tracks seem to blur together into one sound that gets lost. But with repetition, the tracks distinguish themselves from one another in complimentary sounds and undertones. It's an accumulation of timely music that concludes into its very own atmosphere.

Warpaint demands your attention while keeping you at arm's length. Part of the beauty of the album is that some of its questions remain unanswered. It's pretentious, but also hip, adding another dimension to the fast-paced music industry that we devour. Give it time - it may be challenging and a little flawed, but it's worth it.

If you break down the barriers of the album, the only way to listen to it is by playing it loud and letting it fill a room like smoke. Headphones are not allowed.

email: arts@ubspectrum.com