Emily Kokal’s singing — backed by bandmates Theresa Wayman and Jenny Lee Lindberg, and awash in reverb — could be mistaken for something ghostly, if Warpaint’s sound wasn’t so vitally alive behind her. Unwilling to coast on the pure beauty of the vocals on The Fool, this all-female quartet builds thick, muscled songs that Kokal’s otherwordly voice beds down in. These songs are expansive without sounding bloated, and noisy yet sharp.
In fact, it’s in the pure strength of its noise that Warpaint shows us something new. These musicians know you don’t need to amp up the distortion to be noisy, and you don’t have to make everything blur at the edges to expand. All the songs here clock in around five minutes and build with a skilled patience. “Set Your Arms Down” and “Warpaint” ride on insistent beats while riffs thread clear paths through the track. The guitars often sound watery here, soaked in chorus-pedal effects, but they never lose their precision. Instead, their clarity cuts effectively through the smooth glide of the vocals and atmosphere of keys.
The results, particularly in the album’s first half, are both beautiful and subtly heavy. These songs wear on you in the best way, luring you in with simple elements and then burying you deep in the details. “Now I’ve got you in the undertow,” Kokal sings, with a dangerous seduction, on “Undertow” and you can’t help but concede. Because when that song launches into a lean, funky groove, it’s both left-field surprising and completely organic. Similarly, the electro-pop start of “Bees” yields to a flurry of post-punk angles, while “Shadows” starts with humble folk and blows up into industrial-sized drums and Kokal’s shouts like a banshee.
Warpaint builds a musical world in which there are no borders between this sound and that one. The band jumps around, indiscriminately, and we go along without looking back. In its intricacy, The Fool is a curiously eccentric pop record. But in its sheer power, it’s also a dynamic rock record. And while things do settle down in the second half, the band members don’t lose sight of their strengths. Sure, “Majesty” is long on the atmosphere of this record without ever earning its own pulse, and closer “Lissie’s Heart Murmur” is a little slow to get going. But next to them, you have a ballad like “Baby,” which, for once, holds onto its fragile start and it works as a counterpart to all the sound-stacking that goes on during the rest of the record.
In the end, The Fool‘s success comes in not cutting corners. No moment here settles for the cheap thrill, and in building these songs — carefully,and each with its own distinct materials — Warpaint comes off as an awfully confident band, one you should be listening to more often.