WARPAINT Exquisite Corpse (2009 US Manimal 6-track CD EP including Stars Elephants Billie Holiday and Beetles. Housed in a digipak picture sleeve - still factory sealed from new MANI-017)
Offering only six tracks, this introduction to Los Angeles quartet Warpaint is unlikely to initially represent value for money to many, given it retails at a price comparable to many full-length albums these days. But such is the impression left by one listen to Exquisite Corpse that it’s perfectly pitched: it’s an enticing taste, one that absolutely leaves the listener craving more. A bargain at twice the price.
The band’s sound will appeal effortlessly to anyone swept up in the understated splendour of The xx’s silence-celebrating compositions – just like the young Londoners, Warpaint respect the balance between stirring (yet soothing) sounds and their surrounding stillness. Contrast is everything, and they perform these songs while exhibiting the sort of restraint-embracing sensibilities that will set them in good stead for an album proper in 2010. It’s a magical brew, familiar yet wonderfully fresh to ears repeatedly beaten by noisy newcomers mistaking media attention for ability.
Opener Stars is all spectral, frail vocals and a guitar that echoes through the dark like a voice from an otherworldly dimension – its sound is somehow detached from the present, as if the preserved indentation of something more solid. It’s gorgeous and simply constructed, its percussive pulse barely registering beneath lapping washes of beauteous melody. Elephants is brasher, but even at their most boisterous Warpaint respect control, underpinning bassline repetition keeping their aim straight and true.
The real show-stopper is Billie Holiday, where the band take the central lyrical hook from Mary Wells’ Motown hit My Guy and thread it through an arrangement that borrows its haunting qualities from such similarly arresting efforts as Telepathe’s Can’t Stand It and Cat Power’s The Greatest. The influential singer of its title would no doubt approve of such an impossibly tender, deeply affecting song bearing her name. It’s one of those calling-card tracks that can make or break a band – like Chairlift’s Bruises, or José Gonzáles’ cover of The Knife’s Heartbeats. Only the (near) future, though, will tell if it leads to greater things for its makers.
Hopefully it will, as this listener for one is now primed for a full album of this wonderful fare. Fingers crossed, but at the same time if Warpaint were hurried to a debut long-player it could adversely affect their splendid slightness. Here’s hoping they’re willing to play a patient game, just as The xx were. Both are terribly delicate, but equally mightily talented. --Mike Diver
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