Album Review: Warpaint's patience pays off

Quartet makes ambient music danceable

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'Warpaint'

Album art for self-titled release from Warpaint. (Handout / January 20, 2014)

"Warpaint"

Warpaint

3 1/2 stars (out of 4)

The Los Angeles quartet Warpaint has been together for 10 years, and in that time has managed to release only an EP and two albums. But the patience pays off on "Warpaint" (Rough Trade), the sound of a band that has worked diligently to develop an intimate, unhurried aura.

Drummer Stella Mozgawa is a master of understated forward motion alongside Jenny Lee Lindberg, whose bass flirts with the melody even as it shapes the spine of many songs. Their interplay puts a little shimmy in the way Warpaint's unassuming music unfolds until it breaks into a slow, hypnotic dance. They've done the seemingly impossible: made ambient music danceable.

Guitarists Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman color in the spaces around the superlative rhythm section, creating a shimmering womblike atmosphere. The quartet conjures the mystical propulsion of great 4AD bands such as Throwing Muses or the Cocteau Twins, without sounding quite like either.

The band's singularity has attracted some heavy-hitting collaborators: Flood, who has worked with PJ Harvey, Nick Cave and U2, signed on as producer; Radiohead sidekick Nigel Godrich does most of the mixing. This all-star tag team enhances what's already special about Warpaint, not just the subtle insistence of the melodies but the inventive, layered vocal harmonies.

The autumnal instrumental "Intro" sets the tone for an album that is almost disquietingly quiet. It never quite kicks into a higher gear, drawing listeners closer rather than shouting at them. The chorus of "Love is to Die" appears like an apparition from a swirl of melting guitars. In the midst of "Teese," a classic girl-group plea emerges — "I want more now" — from the undertow, then slips back beneath the surface.

Though "Disco//Very" taps into an unexpected influence — globe-trotting rabble-rouser M.I.A. — to create a club-ready track, the prevailing mood is spooky and shadowy. Various instruments drift into the foreground — the crisp hissing of Mozgawa's hi-hat, a wan series of single guitar notes — then dissolve.

The songs can seem shapeless at first. As Kokal once told the Tribune, "We're relaxed about structure." That may be frustrating to those who prefer the immediacy of a classic pop hook. But even though Warpaint's songs take their time, once they sink in, they stick around.

greg@gregkot.com

'Warpaint'

Warpaint

3 1/2 stars (out of 4)

 

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