Today’s Song: Warpaint Are Still the Champions

Warpaint
Warpaint
Warpaint layered together a hip-hop inspired alternative desert rock sound for two albums straight before scattering. Now, the “Champion” band of cross bone style is back.
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Stream: “Champion” – Warpaint




Warpaint is probably one of the best names in alternative music today.

I’m not making a statement of a Radiohead or Portishead caliber, or some qualitative statement based on their skills or popular ubiquity. The name just makes for phenomenal imagery.

It functions in two parts. The first is evident from the get-go: The symbology of body art in times of conflict attached to a band of four women. Immediately, this word is primed for Amazonian comparisons and ritual performances befit for the rock cabal. Alice Cooper, Gene Simmons, eat your hearts out.

Second, the term “warpaint” provokes stark connotations when broken down into the individual words. War—combat, conflict, battle, destruction, decimation, bloodbath or massacre—and Paint—water, oil, acrylic, pigmentation, visualization, depiction, cosmetic and aesthetic. The point-counterpoint being so different yet intimately constructed in the same name confers a poetic potential with barely a nudge.

'Radiate Like This', Warpaint's forthcoming fourth album, is set to release May 6, 2022
‘Radiate Like This’, Warpaint’s forthcoming fourth album, is set to release May 6, 2022
I’m an ocean
Breathing in and out
I’m a million years old
I’m a champion, I’m a champion
Breathe in and breathe it out
And here it is, I’ve got you
And here it is, I talk to you
I hope you figure out
Everything you’re on about

The range allows for an elastic imagery from steely-eyed concrete jungle guerrillas to evocative abstract sound painters. Their music never failed to sell on this dual image, either. After the cross bones style garage rock start, it was almost too easy to write about Warpaint’s music as a new form of “emo-witch” rock hot off the presses from Los Angeles. Anything they do is easy to describe as defiant as it is beautiful.

But as an experienced writer, how could you fall into that trap?

As it turns out, it happens. It happened to a lot of independent journalists with the debut. And it happened to me before I pulled my head from under a rock three years ago. That’s why they call it experience. So the trick is to avoid using that language like a crutch.

For the second and third records, the group pivoted. They layered together a hip-hop inspired alternative desert rock sound for two albums straight. One that is just as spectral and bloodcurdling as their premier EP. If a sales demographic exists consisting of Cure fans into Dre, Massive Attack, Cat Power or singing across landscape shots to Death Valley, then Warpaint own it.

Warpaint
Warpaint

The interim period has been a long one. It saw Mozgawa become a regular Courtney Barnett collaborator. Wayman released her first solo record under the TT moniker. Jenny Lee took the time to contribute to projects with Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers. Emily Kokal took a long, well-deserved break from serious songwriting for her part.

All the while, the question of new music from Warpaint fermented and continued to tantalize. Could they return to Warpaint form? If anyone still doubts that, “Champion” should snap them out of it real quick.

The chilled-out trip hopping rock cut picks up right where Theresa Wayman, Emily Kokal, Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa last left off with the lukewarm Heads Up.

I’m an ocean
Breathing in and out
I’m a million years old
I’m a champion
I’m a champion
And here it is, I’ve got you
And here it is, I talk to you
I hope you figure out
Everything you’re on about

The runtime brims with plenty of guitar parts, vocals calling across the horizon, and synthesizers stretching beyond it. Cut with hybrid percussion, produced with reverb, delay and modulation, and replete with harmonies, all the identifiers necessary for a Warpaint record are present on “Champion.”

There’s a certain form of levity, however. One bereft from the back half of Heads Up.

The starting keyboard lick shimmers, the first guitar is taut and spindly. Kokal and Lindberg play the mystic without delving into the cult and pick up the hype of a hip-hop bar without any of the noise: “I’m a notion/ Breathing in and out/ I’m a million years old/ I’m a champion.”

Later verses on “Champion” do end up in slight tautology befit for a b-side—“I hope you’ll figure out/ Everything you know about—” but they follow the Anthony Kiedis formula of vox: words are just the first instrument. I’m just glad they didn’t try to start us off any slower.

Lindberg’s heartbeat bass breathes and thumps under this message with a post-punk fervor carried from her somber, emotional solo record, jennylee. Working together with Mozgawa’s slick use of kit and programming caboodle, Lindberg plays like the second coming of Jah Wobble. Punky, funky, inevitable and encouraging.

Meanwhile, Kokal’s guitar is ready and tone-heavy for the solo, a balm for every itch that needed scratch and Wayman’s synthesizers fill all the gaps with daybreak color. They provide an atmosphere cool but every bit refreshing.

That last point is of particular encouragement. Warpaint have always struggled with their more slower, back-catalogue efforts, which could get strung out by a wont for atmosphere over substance. Or just horrible instrumental balance. But here and now, the band blends the ambiance of their electronic impulses with plenty of bounce to propel the effort to success. The music never finds itself stuck in a stylistic rut or drowned by a bad mix. The next element always relieves the prior, another wave pushing upon the tideline left by the last.

We’re all the same sun
We’re all our own sun too
We’re all the ocean
We all look out at you
We’re all the same sun
We’re all our own sun too
We’re all the ocean
We all look out to you
Warpaint © 2022
Warpaint © 2022



It hits all of the marks of a heralded return. Inviting enough for a new listener to enter the Warpaint headspace of moody and atmospheric alternative rock, balanced with firm pace from the rhythm and oxygen in the noisemakers to make sure anybody doesn’t start daydreaming about witches and ghouls and conjurations.

The magic in this song is natural and effervescent. “Champions” is a zephyr song, blowing low over the bay, clipping the seaside air and turning heads to a horizon that Warpaint fans have long looked forward to.

The champions of cross bones style are back. Radiate Like This, Warpaint’s fourth album, is set to release May 6 via Heirlooms / Virgin Music.

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Stream: “Champion” – Warpaint



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'Radiate Like This', Warpaint's forthcoming fourth album, is set to release May 6, 2022

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