The Fool made Warpaint’s name with a gothicky, wandering style of music, all swirling textures and powerful rhythmic undercurrents. Their self-titled follow-up continues in the same mode, which carries the risk of making what seemed interestingly enigmatic before now come across as wilfully vague.
Another factor militating against mysteriousness was the tiny but packed venue, so crowded that clapping was a painful contact sport. When the Californian foursome opened with an understated new track “Keep It Healthy”, the capacity to appreciate Emily Kokal’s hazy guitar-playing or her and keyboardist/guitarist Theresa Wayman’s delicate singing was continually disrupted by people squeezing past with beers and apologies – a rather too corporeal counterpoint to the ethereal music being played on stage. There’s nothing enigmatic about your foot getting trodden on.
“Biggy” was the most underwhelming of the new songs, the vocals indecipherably airy, layers of sound eddying around in a style that was meant to be mesmerising but which in the present context was merely wishy-washy. Much better were the tracks when the rhythm section of bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg and drummer Stella Mozgawa came to the fore.
Lindberg’s taut bass-playing brought an ominous thrust to lyrics about ego, death and romantic obsession on “Love Is to Die”, the four women bathed in an eerie red light as they played it. “Feeling Alright” was set to a lithe and moody bass and drum shuffle, while “Disco//Very” saw them audition as West Coast descendants of New York post-punks ESG, their vocals acquiring a sharper edge as maracas and a jittery cymbal routine joined with drums and a nagging dub bass line.
The new album does a good job of building on The Fool, maintaining the group’s trademark air of mysterious dreaminess while strengthening the rhythmic focus. But tonight’s set had a jigsaw-like quality, as though the band were unsure about how to fit it all together. It was only in the encore that they looked fully comfortable, playing an extended version of old song “Elephants” with the hypnotic intensity of their former live shows. The mystery for them lies in learning to repeat the trick with the new material.