The story of Warpaint’s return nearly six years on from their third album ‘Heads Up’ (2016) is one of them being torn together. For the first time in the LA band’s history, Emily Kokal (guitar, vocals), Theresa Wayman (guitar, vocals), Jenny Lee Lindberg (bass, vocals) and Stella Mozgawa (drums, vocals) weren’t making mood music by jamming in the same room. The pandemic put initial 2019/2020 recording sessions at Mozgawa’s desert studio in Joshua Tree on hold, short-circuiting the band’s reunion after a few years of individual project pursuits and downtime from touring. Warpaint were geographically distant from one another too (Mozgawa, for example, spent much of the pandemic stranded in her native Australia), meaning that their fourth album had to be finished remotely. They were at once connected and disconnected.
Cynically, fans may have expected the band’s synchronicity born of firm, decades-long friendships and natural musical intuition to have wilted somewhat. But Warpaint’s ‘Radiate Like This’ is as cohesive if not more detailed than records past. It’s undeniably Warpaint with its dark, dreamy sounds and molten rhythms yet it also embraces warmer, soulful melodies that celebrate the love they espouse across the album. It feels like they were never apart.
That unbridled love meanders throughout such as on ‘Melting’ and ‘Altar’, although it’s most alluring on the dozy soul number, ‘Stevie’. “And now you’re in my life / In my craziest dream,” Kokal sings. She layers the “dream” lyric with supple, harmonised vocal runs as Lindberg’s bass slinks and Mozgawa’s drum shuffle, soundtracking loved-up wooze. Kokal has always had a beautiful voice – tag-teaming it with Wayman’s wirier tones – but her voice has never sounded as sublime and purposeful as it does here. Love has really rubbed off on her.
Despite ‘Radiate Like This’ emitting the light of its namesake it also exhibits disconcerting themes amid darker sonic shades. The album’s best track, the ethereal and cathartic ‘Hard To Tell You’, was started years ago by Kokal during a fractious period for the band. It later mutated into a catch-all song for splintered relationships. “It’s hard to tell you now that what I want isn’t what I wanted,” she sings as 80s synths gleam and reverb guitars shimmer. Even if the topic of band tensions is broached in song the band have since told The Forty-Five that past rumours of a split were just that. “It’s not even possible that we’d be sick of the sight of each other,” Kokal said, “we’re each other’s best friends.”
‘Radiate Like This’ certainly isn’t as experimental as Warpaint’s earlier work, particularly their 2008 EP ‘Exquisite Corpse’, but there are enough quirks or instances of mini whig-outs for fans to indulge in. On ‘Melting’ a metronomic pulse and throbbing synth give way to battering-ram beats and discordant guitars for an addictive, slow-mo headbanger.
‘Proof’ – another ode to romance’s comforting hold (“When I wanna be so inspired…I need my love”) – hears the earthier tones of the band’s instruments tumble at the close, with vaulting honky-tonk style piano, syncopated beats and noodling guitars recalling elements of Radiohead’s ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’.
There are, however, some weaker moments on the record. ‘Altar’, one of a handful of tracks that hears the band gut the meatier textures of ‘Trouble’ or ‘Proof’ in favour of skeletal rim-taps and intermittent washes of piano, never really gets going. And the hushed acoustics of the lighthearted (and horny!) closer ‘Send Nudes’ feels like an odd choice. Previously released songs such as 2021’s brooding standalone single ‘Lilys’ could have taken its place.
But these are minor gripes in a song collection comprising some of Warpaint’s most considered and enchantingly melodic work yet. The pandemic allowed for the band to fine-tune layers at their home studios in a way that time hadn’t previously afforded, and the results are largely stunning. We can’t wait to hear what’s next.