When the dreadful Haim dropped last summer it might have been argued that they were everything we'd been asking for. All those dreadful column inches about post feminism in pop and retro riffing to a bygone age had eventually created a Frankenstein's monster. Part alternative. Part pop. Part Fleetwood Mac, they felt as though they had been put together by advertising executives for a jeans add. You could almost smell the new wrapping on them.
In a studio around that time however, another bunch of female musicians were busy recording a second album with a great deal more weight behind it. The self titled 'Warpaint', the second album by the band - is something of an anomaly in these hysteric times, an album that doesn't attempt to riff off the age old terms of attitude and sexual politics, but brings back the idea of what great artistic rock and roll should be about. Mystery. The exotic. An other -worldliness dipping in out of the listeners consciousness. It's a record that feels like a soundtrack to a Michael Mann film more than anything. Their hometown of Los Angeles, terminally twitching underfoot to the sound of layered guitars and a sense of elegant foreboding.
Much of this down to lead singers Emily Kokal's singing style, which fractures and crackles on the record like a dervish. It's a necessary focal point to the album's psychedelic flourishes. Too often on such albums (Toy's recent for instance), the identity of the vocalist can be drowned out in cheap flashes of layered noise but here it's pushed to the front. On songs such as 'Love Is To Die' and 'Feeling Alright' - the harmonies are pin perfect like a lost Ronette's record. Elsewhere they bring to mind the ghosts of sixties West Coast pop. The great trick Warpaint pull off is to not leave the linear line hanging long enough for you to trace. In terms of influence, it's a sophisticated and difficult coda to pull off.
Whilst a lot has been made of the choice of Radiohead's producer Nigel Godrich at the mixing desk and also a throwaway comment made by Kokal herself of this being their 'Dark side of the Moon' - it's a big reach in fact to see either as a statement of musical intent. 'Warpaint' doesn't strive for the arch intellectualism of 'OK Computer' and neither is it as muddy as Floyd's great seance album. It has a lighter touch than that. On 'Biggy' - it evens dismisses any notion of retrospection with something that sounds like a stab into an electronic future. It works too, providing another surprising turn for a band unwilling to stand still for long enough to be caught up in their own bright ideas. More often than not they seem to devour them.
Like that other great American band the Chromatics, It just might be in fact that Warpaint are the latest on that side of the Atlantic to rip up the blueprint and provide a bright future for alternative, left field music. Compared to the derivative and club footed nature of English rock and roll at the moment, 'war paint' seems a huge step forward. A flash of creativity and elegance rising from the underground of a long dead Los Angeles. Now it seems it is more than vital again.