Warpaint – The Fool



The name ‘Warpaint’ evokes the tribal markings that warriors and hunters used to intimidate the enemy and foster a sense of unity. With the advent of weapons that were accurate and deadly over large distances looking impressive became less desired than being hidden and so modern warpaint is found in the form of the grease-paint camouflage used to hide military men. Somewhere between these two contradictory paradigms lies the extraordinary idea of ‘dazzle camouflage’ as utilised on certain warships in the First World War. Unable to adequately hide the ships the allies instead used bold geometric patterns that had the effect of breaking up the outline of the ship and making it extremely tough for the enemy to judge the size, speed or direction of the ship.
Something similarly disconcerting is happening on The Fool. At once familiar and unusual, recognisable and yet hard to get a handle on. First off is that band name. One would expect something altogether more strident, more aggressive from a band with ‘war’ to the forefront of their chosen moniker. But there isn’t riotgirrl posturing or punky thrash. Instead there is an almost dreamlike quality to the music. Like most dreams, though, there is an unsettling element.
At one point they Emily Kokal sings ‘now I’ve got you in my undertow’. It seems like a perfect metaphor for the album. It’s easy to be swept along, but you might drown in the depths. Later she adds ‘Do you really want to be the one to fight?/ And I said “You’re better not to light that fire./ It will take you to the darkest part of the weather.” Like camouflage it is war at a remove – winning the fight by not allowing it to happen.
Indeed it seems that lyrically they are going for the avoidance of open conflict. Their opening gambit is titled Set Your Arms Down. There is, however always the hint that if it comes to it, then they will win. At first the track Baby feels like an incongruity. Amidst the complex musical layering and somewhat opaque lyricism of much of the album, it has a very simple opening with acoustic guitar and the almost banal lyric ‘Don’t call anybody else baby’. However it soon becomes apparent that the track is an exemplar of one of the album’s key strengths. The vocals interweave and spiral around themselves and the end result is hypnotic. It’s apparent gentleness hides an edge, it is at once both romantic and sinister. It is clear that whilst these girls aren’t shouting the odds, it is clear that they like to be in control.
It’s this contradiction that lies at the heart of the album. The disparate elements sometimes feel as though they are somewhat unfocused, but are melded together with a total control of atmosphere and tone. There feels like a gentle lyricism in the way much of the music flows, but there is an undercurrent of darkness and melancholy.