Warpaint’s self-titled sophomore effort arrives over three years after the Los Angeles quartet’s debut, and while that may be an unhurried, unorthodox pace for a band with this much buzz surrounding it, it’s one that mirrors their singular brand of psych-rock: slow and methodical, searching but sure-footed, moody and physical in equal measure. Childhood friends Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman, who share guitar and vocal duties, remain the group’s creative center, but Warpaint finds the two moving toward a more subdued, ethereal sound, their sinuous grooves and spooky-sexy vocal melodies stretched thinner than ever and immersed in an intoxicating tide of synths and ambient noise.
When this works, it makes for a pretty killer cocktail, and four of Warpaint’s first five tracks are unqualified triumphs. The short instrumental “Intro” and “Keep It Healthy” function as a single piece of what you might call jam-band noir, Kokal’s murky fingerpicked riffs urged on by Stella Mozgawa’s florid, foregrounded percussion. Lead single “Love Is to Die” twists and turns through a relationship’s still-smoldering wreckage, its dream-pop bridge fading into an eerily dissonant chorus, faint traces of electronica pulsing throughout. “Biggy,” meanwhile, lures the listener in with an indelible distorted bassline courtesy of Jenny Lee Lindberg, but gradually transforms into a six-minute slice of dark, noisy delirium. These are lush, expansive tracks, the product of months of jam sessions, studio time, and sonic fine-tuning, and they’re elegantly rendered by veteran production guru Mark “Flood” Ellis.
If only their quality were representative of the album as a whole. After such a lively start, Warpaint settles into a strange, somnambulant second half that tries to coast on vibes alone as the rhythm section begins to run on fumes. The bumpy, bass-driven “Feeling Alright” is the outlier here; the rest, from the sleepy “Go In” to the torrid “CC,” simply feel flat and undercooked. Surely these tracks, some of Warpaint’s mellowest ever, are meant to grow on us, and even the solemn, bleary-eyed “Drive” has a certain appeal as drugged-out mood music. Given Warpaint’s complex, operatic highs, its experiments in minimalism and tranquility make for some awfully low lows, but there are worse things than a band that seems to be evolving in two directions at once.