Gig review: Warpaint at Leeds Beckett University

A hiatus can often be the make-or-break of a band reaching a commercial nadir. For some, the extended absence can be a springboard to greater success; for others, it is a death knell that can kill momentum stone dead.


LA’s Warpaint, purveyors of dreamy art rock, unfortunately fall into the latter category; last year’s third outing Heads Up barely registered in the way its self-titled predecessor did. Such aspirations are unlikely to faze the Californian quartet though; at Leeds Beckett University’s Student Union, they deliver a performance high on atmospherics, if exasperatingly low on energy and eminence at points.

Well-versed in the art of loud-quiet dynamics and irregular time structures, the foursome are as tight and well-honed as expected; guitarists Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman thread lines and wrap Cocteau Twins-style harmonies around each other on the angular, honeyed Whiteout, whilst drummer Stella Mozgawa propels the gothic shuffle of Undertow forward with a lurching, jagged rhythm.

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Bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg, the only one who put a solo album proper out on the outfit’s sabbatical, underpins the thrilling dance-rock of New Song with an insistent, nagging pulse, and on the wintery, gloomy Love Is to Die, all four create ethereal magic out of its haunted hooks.

It’s frustrating, then, that a band with such an expansive sonic palate are unable to nail the soundscapes all too often. Heavier material such as the jerky PiL-tinged pop of Bees may lend itself to the ragged sound quality that prevails often – but the circulatory echo of Heads Up and the slowly unfurled eroticism of No Way Out are left garbled, the captivating witchcraft of their shadowy style trampled under foot.

This lack of sound quality is a sword that impales them too; mistier, nocturnal tracks such as The Stall lack any real dynamism, thanks to the muddled noise they are rendered in.

Warpaint remain a group with a superb ability to craft melancholy and hypnotic music; but they need to rediscover and refine their live nuances if they wish to scale the indie rock ladder once more.