• Warpaint grows on second, self-titled release

    It’s still easy to think of Warpaint, the four-piece psych rock group from Los Angeles, as a relatively new band. While their engrossing self-titled album is only their second release so far, the band has been active for about ten years now, and no longer sound like a group trying to find their sound. Their 2010 debut, The Fool,  drew them attention, but Warpaint is definitely a step up. The album is a deep and murky journey into dream pop that finds the band at their most cohesive yet.

    When Warpaint played Austin Psych Fest last April, they were impressively tight and groovy, and that experience and maturity transfers well into the studio recordings this time around. Vocalist Emily Kokai uses her voice mainly as an additional instrument to accompany the rest of the band, lightly sailing over the lulling sounds. Rather than going for big or triumphant moments, the band lives in the shadows throughout here, focusing on how all the piece lock in place to build something bigger.

    Warpaint has been compared to dream pop legends like The Cocteau Twins in the past, and while they still thrive in that area, the music here is often more throbbing and electronic, to the point where similarities can be drawn to bands like Portishead or the later work by Radiohead. This is most apparent on tracks like the dance-rock influenced “Disco/Very”, where Warpaint shows themselves as a hazier companion to bands like Liars. Other songs like “Keep It Healthy” show the band progressing with complicated buildups in a pristine manner.

    While nothing here tops the simplistic beauty of earlier songs like “Baby,” as a whole Warpaint feels like the band’s most accomplished work to date. Songs like “Biggy” keep a slowed down yet driving momentum that is largely captivating. Sometimes, moments can feel a tad too stagnant, but the album thankfully never really gets stuck in a lull. It’s not meant to be an invigorating or exciting album, but rather the kind that gets played in those waning moments in the night where everything slows down.

    Warpaint’s latest is a solidly inviting one that has many good moments and flows well together. It could have definitely been a big more captivating, as even though it works as a slower dream-pop album, it’s maybe a bit too easy for the listener’s attention to fade in and out while listening. The record shows definite progress, yet also leaves room for Warpaint to grow. With steps like this along the way, the journey will without a doubt be intriguing to watch.

    Artist: Warpaint 
    Album: Warpaint
    Label: Rough Trade
    Songs to download: “Biggy”, “Disco/Very” & “Feeling Right”

  • Against Me!'s Transgender Dysphoria Blues is the best new album of 2014

    A lot has changed for Against Me! in the three and a half years since their last album, White Crosses, came out. The band changed drummers twice, and bassist Andrew Seward left the band after being a member for more than a decade. The most notable change was a personal one, as singer Laura Jane Grace, formerly known as Tom Gabel,  publicly came out as transgendered and announced her plans to become a woman. Grace wrote and composed all ten tracks on the excellent Transgender Dysphoria Blues, and they are heavily influenced by her decision to come out. As a whole, they are the most personal and affecting songs she has ever written, making the album perhaps the strongest Against Me! release to date.

    The band’s albums have always been angry and politically charged, but that trick had been growing old by the time White Crosses came out. What makes Transgender Dysphoria Blues so strong is that by making these songs about personal struggles, Grace injects them with a fiery sense of immediacy and resonance that had been starting to wear off. After the bassist and drummer departed, Grace contemplated ending the band. She decided not to, saying, “If I didn’t feel like I had something that I really needed to say with the album we’ve been working on for the past year then I’d humbly hang the hat and move on.” This album feels like Grace has something important to say, and is better off for it.

    Clocking in at a tight 29 minutes, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is an enrapturing listen that never overstays its welcome. While it is definitely not lo-fi, the ultra sleek production of the last album has been reduced, which helps make the music easier to connect to. That doesn’t mean Grace hasn’t lost her knack for crafting fiery anthems with catchy hooks, as songs like “True Trans Soul Rebel” and “Fuckmylife666” have some of the most memorable choruses she’s ever written. While the band’s Springsteen influence is still intact, the forays into darker themes alongside these powerful tunes recall The Replacements at times. Grace’s voice is still as gruff as ever, and it helps give a certain edge and vitriol to her songs.

    Grace’s decision to out herself was a momentous occasion, both for her personally and for punk rock in general. She addresses this head-on from the start, opening the album on the title track with the lines “Your tells are too obvious, shoulders too broad for a girl,” before going into the many challenges she faces on a daily basis.  From there, she delves into other personal issues such as the relationship with her wife, the loss of friends and the creeping threat of death. Everything comes together on the incredible closer, “Black Me Out," as Laura gives a voice to anyone who’s ever been taken advantage of or made to feel as if they were less than worthwhile.

    Grace’s songwriting is sharper on an album where the music is a little messier than it’s been on the last few Against Me! albums. By airing out her struggles, she is able to give a voice to the countless that relate to what she goes through. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is an album that should touch a lot of people’s lives, and is easily the first great record of 2014.

    Artist: Against Me!
    Album: Transgender Dysphoria Blues
    Label: Total Treble Music
    Songs to download: “Transgender Dysphoria Blues," “True Trans Soul Rebel" and “Black Me Out”