ALBUM REVIEW: WARPAINT, Warpaint

warpaint new

Originally published in The AU Review.

 

Hours before writing up this review, I shared Warpaint’s latest SoundCloud activity on my blog. Titled ‘Biggie’ and taken from their upcoming eponymous release, Warpaint’s new track is one that Portishead never wrote. No doubt influenced by the trip hop craze of the 90s, ‘Biggie’ is only one example of the new Warpaint.

Yes, there is still the mild post-punk and indie rock flavours thrown into the mix, but Warpaint feels, sounds and tastes a lot more synthetic. Mostly keys and percussion driven, the new record boasts a tighter production and a darker aesthetic. Engineered by Grammy-award winning rock producer Mark “Flood” Ellis (U2, Nick Cave, Nine Inch Nails), Warpaint also became the focus of an upcoming documentary by extremist videographer Chris Cunningham. The documentary is an artistic and abstract video diary of the making of the album, pushing the girls’ music further into the paradigm of art rock.

I love this new record. Arriving nearly four years after its predecessor, Warpaint is fresh and morose, taking all the original aspects of the debut and reshaping them. The Fool was undeniably good, but it was too safe, avoiding a stretch beyond the girls’ take on indie rock. The follow up manages to sound both risky and appropriate, simultaneously evoking a sense of integrity and reinvention. The girls have kept their ghostly riffs, eerie vocals and collective harmonies, but they’ve added percussive breaks and synth-laden keys and atmospherics. Stella Mozgawa is as versatile as ever on the drums and drum machines, transitioning smoothly from a bombastic rhythm into a minimalist one. You never know what’s coming up next, as each track is different to the one before it. There’s an indie folk track (‘Teese’), then a trip-hop one (‘Hi’) and then a punchy punk-rock Kills-esque piece (‘Disco//very’). Its consistent versatility prevents it from becoming dull and its sonic exploration indicates an inevitable evolutionary growth for Warpaint.

Like The Fool, the lyrics are as sombre and enigmatic as ever. “Love Is To Die” says it all in its title and other tracks spit “Eat you alive/rip you up and tear you in two” (‘Disco//very’) and whisper “All you see/you don’t want to see/but can’t seem to avoid” (‘Teese’). In ‘CC’, the girls sing “Give me more/I haven’t heard this before/been holding out for this one.” Mmm, sounds a lot like my reaction to the new album.

Fans unfamiliar with Warpaint will still recognise it as Warpaint. It’s one of those few sophomore releases to deliver something both original and familiar and on top of that, to deliver it well.

Review Score: 8.4 out of 10.

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ALBUM REVIEW: CUT COPY, Free Your Mind

Cut-Copy-Free-Your-Mind

Originally published in Beat Magazine.

 

Cut Copy have always been a band who embraced both the old and the new. They stitch futuristic electronica with retro dance music. When they released their innovative debut and sophomore records in 2004 and 2008, they pioneered the indie dance movement, blending lo-fi indie with 80s pop and disco to create a sound that had both feet planted in different musical paradigms. They have played at indie, dance and electronica festivals, proving a difficult group to categorise. Every record they have released has been progressive, simultaneously different and alike to their previous work, validating an integrity that made myself and others follow the band consistently throughout their career. Free Your Mind however, is a step back. Almost ten years after the release of their debut Bright Like Neon Love, Cut Copy have gone twenty years back, delivering both an idea and a sound that is just way too retro, way too old school and much too antiquated.

Everything about this album is corny. The album and the title track tell you to “free your mind,” the tracks have titles like We Are Explorers, Into The Desert, Meet Me In A House Of Love, Take Me Higher and Walking In The Sky. The lyrics are all wishy washy and cheesy: “In these arms you’re always welcome/if you are a sinner or you are a saint,” “You gotta reach the sky if you want your life to shine” (Free Your Mind) and “You gotta live your life today, tomorrow is a world away” (Walking In The Sky). Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the distorted monologues and voice-overs joined in: “This information is crystallising into your mind” (Let Me Show You Love), “He’s the one who gave me the horse/so I could ride into the desert” (Into The Desert) and “the waves just came rushing in and splashing on the rocks/sort of a spiritual experience” (The Waves). The whole thing reminds me of that scene in Zoolander when Derek is being brainwashed and it’s all cheesy and comedic. Along with Relax, Free Your Mind would be the perfect soundtrack to that scene. Will Ferrel may as well be the voice-over in all the tracks, the outcome would still be the same. Unlike Derek though, I wasn’t brainwashed into thinking this was right and I didn’t leave the session with a free mind.

Sonically, the album is alright. Catchy yes, but dully repetitive, like a lot of house music. A lot of the tracks sound like lost Depeche Mode and Corona ones (Free Your Mind, Meet Me In A House Of Love), complete with squelchy bass lines reminiscent of old acid house days. It never kicks in enough to be considered dance music and it’s too corny to be taken seriously as a musical treasure. It’s trying to be psychedelic, but the lyrics and monologues are so cringy and lightweight, skimming the surface of real spirituality. It never goes further than “We’re on a journey to the morning sun” or “I’m a man who’s walking in the sky.” It doesn’t really fit anywhere, except the scene in Zoolander mentioned before. The only thing that would make sense is if Cut Copy actually came out and admitted that it was a joke, an experiment in cult narratives and hipster philosophy. Even the video clip of Free Your Mind is ridiculous, showing a topless hippy Alexander Skarsgard walking around his estate,  admiring his brainless cult followers. Hey, he was in Zoolander wasn’t he? It all makes sense now.

Seriously though, I was really disappointed with this one. I miss the days when Cut Copy were independent and progressive. This whole pseudo-psychadelic narration meets 90s house thing is stagnant, outdated and just plain weird. Instead of freeing my mind, it just pissed it off. Bring back the old Cut Copy.

Review Score: 5.7 out of 10