Review: Warpaint - Heads Up

Warpaint: Heads Up

The eponymous release in 2014 by LA indie rock outfit Warpaint was a swaying, hauntingly psychedelic statement of intent. It let you get lost in a mass of echoes and swirls, in one of the best examples of beautifully indecisive music.

Two years later, and with Heads Up, it seems Warpaint have made their mind up. While the sounds on Warpaint were a joy to behold, this time the all-female collective have come up with something definite, with sharp edges and a whole lot of fun. The album thrills in a newfound relationship, bringing with it a warm sense of clarity and simplicity. Here, Warpaint are sexually confident, combining their usual indie elegance with bold movements.  

The harder focus and romantic overtones help to establish an affinity with soul music on the record, which allows the once cold band to open themselves up emotionally. Opening on a harsh, dominant drumline, ‘Whiteout’ emanates the attitude and close harmonies of something resembling Destiny’s Child; at first sultry, then unrelenting, Emily Kokal’s vocals remain unmistakable in this new environment.

There’s a tinge of funk to the upfront ‘So Good’, whose chorus is literally made up of musical moans, and descends into a kind of numb ecstasy midway through. Meanwhile ‘Don’t Wanna’ feels like an older Warpaint song brought to the modern age, with downcast delivery but pumped up backing.

Warpaint’s emotional and musical lucidity is at its peak in single ‘New Song’, a thumping indie pop anthem which welcomes in a new era. It mixes the best of the old, the blurs and echoes, with a stirring sense of direction, that’s exciting to listen to. Many of the tracks on Heads Up feature small phrases repeated over and over, like “I’m not alone” from ‘By Your Side’, and even the song titles themselves are to the point.

While previous releases relied almost entirely on the presence of the guitars and layered vocals, Heads Up explores a much wider soundworld, awakening Warpaint to the wider possibilities. The sample-driven ‘By Your Side’ is worlds away from what we’re used to hearing, yet the delivery is such that it still feels familiar. Even further in this direction is ‘Dre’, which follows the song ‘Biggy’ off the previous album. This is as hip hop as Warpaint are likely to get, with intimidating riffs and powerful syncopated basslines, yet still maintaining an ethereal presence.

While their musical and sonic development can only be seen as a positive statement of maturity, it must be said that as a result, Heads Up functions slightly less cohesively as an album than its predecessor – hardly surprising, since Warpaint had previously talked about releasing the album song by song over the course of a year.  

It’s interesting to note that final track ‘Today Dear’ begins to come back toward familiar Warpaint territory, albeit still with a simplistic backing. The swirls are back, as are the echoes, and the song doesn’t resolve harmonically, leaving the album on an uncertain note. Perhaps this is the greatest indicator that Heads Up is merely a welcome sidestep, rather than a change of direction for Warpaint.