The Fool

Rating: 4.5/5.0

Label: Rough Trade

The Fool begins with a trebly bass riff and all the tension and intrigue of the opening bars of a movie’s score. Then, “Set Your Arms Down” continues with Emily Kokal’s voice gently entering into the fray amidst flanged guitar and the steady pulse of drummer Stella Mozgawa. Los Angeles’ Warpaint is not a band that ever goes into the red; instead, they demonstrate the ability to evoke chasms and expanses ever deeper and wider on their arresting debut LP. Before you realize it, “Arms” has quickened its tempo, as though a melancholy rain shower has suddenly turned taciturn and violent. Kokal and Theresa Wayman’s guitars, both chiming and startlingly resonant, swirl together to weave an all-encompassing nocturnal atmosphere dotted, occasionally, with burning neon lights seen through bleary eyelids. Amongst this uncertainty, Kokal promises her “love is your flashlight.”

“Warpaint” begins as an unsettling gurgle of guitar before, again, unexpectedly shifting into various movements that come off at once striking and intuitive. The tempo shifts into higher gear before dropping back down and up again, the guitars sounding too heartbroken to really reach a frenzy. It becomes clear that the ladies of Warpaint can kick out the jams, though they never need be loud, or get sweaty in frenetics – they don’t have to. Their aqueous arpeggios disorient without volume and Mozgawa exhibits a jazz-like approach to her kit, with a deft touch urging the rest of the band on to greater fathoms. As on “Undertow;” Kokal and Wayman duet on the disorientation of a new love over a solemn guitar run before bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg pulls things into a more angular direction, her nimble Rickenbacker leading the song off in an entirely direction – sounding like Franz Ferdinand played at half-speed. “Bees” swings more than previous tracks, boasting a taciturn vocal and a nasty bass tone from Lindberg.

“Shadows” has Kokal singing along to an acoustic guitar sounding as if it’s being played on a warped record before Mozgawa and a waterlogged piano carry Kokal’s meditation on hearts broken further into the night; “What did you whisper in my ear/ What did you tell me?/ I wanted to hear,” Kokal sings, though there’s nothing immediate about her voice. On paper, The Fool could be an alternately bitter and sweet break-up album – the aching, acoustic “Baby” and the dark-night-of-the-soul “Majesty” (“You could’ve been my king“) stand out – but Kokal, Lindberg and Wayman’s vocals aren’t necessarily in the moment; all the dramatic events on which the words were based have long since transpired and have evaporated, leaving a record like a haunted house full of memories, sweet and hurtful.

It would seem that what gets a young band noticed in the 2010’s digital glut of music – think of the thousands of MySpace pages, each with some kids’ bands, each with requisite postures for the glossy no one may ever see – is a singular sound, be it retro or quirky. I would argue that a lot of the bands we’ve flocked to, as self-declared discerning listeners, have received our praise and attention because they’ve stuck out: Fleet Foxes, Wavves, the xx. I’d ask, then, are these bands sustainable? Will the second Fleet Foxes move us like the first? Can the xx work what was a very successful formula in ’09 into something still interesting in ’11? As for Nathan Williams, King of the Beach was a fun summertime record, yet his wailing away on “Post Acid” was quite a bit removed from the guitar-maelstrom and existential torment of Wavvves. So then, here are Warpaint, whom actually only have good songs beneath the hypnotic murk of their playing – chops that make The Fool a record that reveals a little something new each time I’ve listened to it. The Fool is an incredible debut, an honest to God home run and I don’t know that we deserve it.

by Chris Middleman

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