Warpaint sounds like the ghosts of Laurel Canyon wafting up to liberate themselves from Los Angeles’ darkest buried secrets—the psychic detritus of 40 years of drugs, debauchery, death, Didion’s Manson Family and Des Barres’ Doors. Their Exquisite Corpse EP is five songs of breathy harmonies and ginger minor-key guitars, both gauzy and thick and just psychedelic enough to sound as though they’re singing from ten feet away in the desert moonlight. It’s an elegiac sound, but with lyrics like Where am I? Why can’t I just get it together? Fuck it, where’s my shit? Oh my god I’m out of it. Let’s get naked and rip down the wall, it’s hard to tell at first where Warpaint stands in the scene currently consuming LA, its sinister history of creepy libertines on drugs and motorcycles once again manifesting in its bands.
The three best friends who form Warpaint’s core are far from the brink of damage and excess, though, and unless you count a stint where they all lived in a house on the beach, the only freebird-y Los Angeles archetype they embody is a steadfast, family-like friendship. Vocalists/guitarists Theresa Wayman and Emily Kokai grew up together in Eugene, Oregon, and the band formed in Los Angeles three years ago after Kokai met bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg at an audition for a Gap commercial. “We were so excited about each other, it was almost elementary,” says Lindberg. “We just lived at the beach and played music, and only played like one show that whole time,” says Wayman. Their first tour up the California coast was basically a glorified camping trip. Though their music evokes a certain Lizard King-y pilled-out mysticism, they’re on the stable end of the spectrum. Rather than living in some bullshit fake-cult band compound or blasting their brains open with formaldehyde, this music just comes to them—they don’t have to live debauched and sad existences to get crystallized. More likely, they all stand out in a circle in the night wind, possibly wearing some white linen gowns, and actually summon the specters they’re channeling. The vocal rounds on their full, lush dreamwave were birthed in the dirt, something more primal and natural. They traverse the artistic pathway Jim Morrison was bent on blowing out, and they don’t even have to act like fuck-ups to do it.
One of Warpaint’s eeriest songs, “Burgundy,” begins with a few faintly underwater guitar trills and a round of velvet vocals that careen and crescendo until they click. “[Our music] has a heaviness to it. The base might be really sweet but the core is dark, so it comes across as haunted,” says Kokai. It’s the fabled, not-quite-real LA depicted as a hazy dream, and when three modern-day Gap girls harmonize about pretty tragedies, the dark ghosts of Southern California sleep like babies.
Stream: Warpaint, Exquisite Corpse EP