The new decade has seen various ‘90s indie-rock mountains reopened for strip mining. So it’s not surprising that “The Fool,” the debut of all-female L.A. rock outfit Warpaint, revisits more than a few movements from the decade.
The new decade has seen various indie-rock mountains from the ‘90s reopened for strip mining: My Bloody Valentine’s shoegaze swirl informs many tastemaker’s record collections — see Deerhunter, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and countless others.
R&B from the 90s is seeing an awakening in some of the more obscure regions of the music blogosphere in the form of home-recording projects that aim to dilute the melodies with static and tape hiss.
Even guitar-based slacker rock from the Clinton years like Pavement and Superchunk have re-emerged after long hiatuses, the former with an international tour and the latter with a tour and new record.
So it’s not surprising that “The Fool,” the debut of all-female L.A. rock outfit Warpaint, revisits more than a few movements from the decade. What is surprising is the particular genre that the group borrows so many of its guitar tones from, especially so for a band mostly marketed as a post-punk outfit thanks to a driving rhythm section, subdermal bass lines and morose melodies.
The eponymous second track opens with a menacing guitar arpeggio, run through some sort of phase-shifter pedal (think Nirvana’s “Come as You Are”).
While the school of over-emotive Eddie Vedder clones was printing more diplomas than the University of Phoenix, the underwater guitar tone that added such murky ambiguity to Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” and other Seattle hits has largely been forgotten.
Let there be no confusion, “The Fool” does not sound like “grunge” (even if the genre name itself was more a media-driven grouping than an actual movement). I’m just really hung up about that guitar sound.
Of course, the indie websites won’t point to the guitar as one of the defining characteristics of the album (merely mentioning the word “grunge” in some circles would inspire a life-or-death cage match between snark and indifference) and will instead rely much more on the critically approved, post-punk rhythms mentioned earlier, which, to the credit of “The Fool,” Warpaint nails.
Vocalists-guitarists Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman sing in about the most opposite way possible from NickleCreedSeetherback’s throat-derf. Like the terrifying, blue-dressed twins in “The Shining,” the pair sweetly coos with the sort of innocent tone that only encourages the listener to wonder what sinister pathways are being obscured.
“Composure” keeps listeners on their toes with interesting drum and rhythm changes, beginning with a lethargically shouted school-yard chant over an echo-y, repeated guitar figure, before abruptly changing riff, rhythm and bass to a frantic sprint.
“Set Your Arms Down” recalls “Z”-era My Morning Jacket at its most atmospheric, with Kokal and Wayman in place of Jim James’ falsetto — sifted through guitars bathed in more than a few buckets of reverb. A spazzed-out backbeat carries the weightless chorus until polyrhythmic percussion cleaves the sonorous plateau.
The dated guitar production works throughout, somehow, with the underwater quality working well with Warpaint’s night-swimming aesthetic. The experimental leanings balance the conventional six-strings.
It’s those moments when the competing forces meet in the middle and settle in hypnotic groove that the band is at its most effective and captivating. Grade: A
Accent editor Ed McMenamin may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.