West Coast pop quartet Warpaint aren’t the most prolific of bands but the quality control has always remained reassuringly high. With surprises aplenty throughout their first three records, Radiate Like This has big shoes to fill. Released on Virgin Records after upwards of a half-decade of radio silence, save for last year’s guesting on Goldensuns’ shimmering single ‘Empty’. Warpaint’s sabbatical was partly due to motherhood (Emily Kokal), solo projects, not forgetting the Covid enforced isolation slowing everything down to a crawl, the new album’s baroque introspection testament to its protracted arrival.
Despite proving more understated and downbeat than its groove-laden predecessor Heads Up, don’t let that put you off this darkly alluring new record that feels greater than the sum of its ten parts. The record’s lo-fi opening ‘Champion’ is a tentative toe being dipped back into once familiar waters as things build at a leisurely pace.
‘Stevie’, the second of the two lead-off singles leaps out like a panther, just freed from the boot of a car. Part TLC, part Supremes, it’s a traffic-stoppingly beautiful nugget of pop perfection. Perhaps a glowing tribute to either Nicks or Wonder, whilst the listener is kept guessing one can be in no doubt the aforementioned singer-songwriters would be over the moon to have penned such a disarming number.
The biggest pointers may lie with Warpaint’s history, their track ‘Billie Holiday’ which segues into the Supreme’s ‘My Guy’ for a time, reveals a healthy Motown influence on the quartet. The spine-tingling melody in the supremely heartfelt chorus would no doubt give Holland, Dozier, and Holland a warm glow. Emily’s tender yearning vocal, ably assisted by Theresa Wayman’s and Jenny Lee Lindbergh’s effortless featherbed harmonies carry you along in a sort of post-coital reverie. It’s mushy but always stays on the right side of twee, Kokal twisting you round her little finger as she implores “Dream lover, lover / like no other, other / you’re down and dirty you are one freaky mother / you give me happiness / you make me wanna / you make me wanna dance / with you”.
Warpaint’s drumskin tight, almost hymnal unity delights throughout Radiate Like This. The gentle sashay of ‘Proof’ slowly creeps up on you, waterboard electronics making way for haunting choral. On the gentle Latin lilt of ‘Melting’, intertwined voices slowly recede as the track grows in their place, despite everything seemingly trying to escape into the distance. ‘Altar’ sounds as if it was recorded in a big old chapel before the vocal euphony returns, shrinking the room abruptly to the size of your favourite cosy bar.
Flamenco-tinged ‘Send Nudes’ with its new-wave synth brings things gently to a close as understated as the opener. Those keyboards also appear as sprinkles of fairy dust in the ethereal ‘Hard To Tell You’, competing with a driving bassline; both could have been lifted from the 1980s yet haven’t dated at all, clever that.
It’s great to have this fine band back in the saddle.
Words by Michael Price
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