Hypnotic and blurry, “Undertow” feels like something of a fever dream, the dual vocals of Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman floating over a pulse-like beat in a way that feels unmoored and amorphous but is actually tightly controlled. Words glide, circle back, repeat, but without the firm sensation of verses and a chorus. Occasionally the jazz-like guitar sound that served as the intro re-emerges but instrumentally it’s mostly bass and percussion, registering more in your gut than your brain, which accentuates the oceanic flow of the lyrics—once the singing starts it doesn’t really stop. This is a strange song, and I recommend listening to it a number of times because there’s a larger effect going on than its initial four minutes suggests.
I find that the song, for me, turns on the guitar that enters at 2:32—a bright, trebly, Talking Heads-like line, previously unheard, that, it turns out, was set up by the drummer, who kicked into a different groove back at 2:13, only maybe we hadn’t noticed. There’s something in how this new sound is brought into the existing landscape, and how the landscape is subtly but firmly changed, that feels deep and affecting. And then, at around 2:30, we get what we hadn’t gotten until right now, and maybe hadn’t realized was missing: the band playing together, putting its collective sound in front of our ears, the blurry-fevered narrative set aside for the better part of 20 seconds. While some of that returns at 2:50, now I can sense the band waiting, I can sense the weight of something larger looming, and when it comes back (3:27), the song roars to a truly satisfying if still mysterious conclusion.
Warpaint is a quartet from Los Angeles. They self-released an EP last year and caused enough of a stir that the band, on the verge of the release of their debut full-length, is a bit wary of getting churned through the blogosphere. As drummer Stella Mozgawa recently told Spinner: “We’re just dorks. I’d like to be a dork for as long as possible instead of being cool for like, a day.”