WHEN Warpaint played in Leeds some three years ago they lacked focus and were unengaged, the set little more than a meandering and shapeless jam.
This time, promoting third album Heads Up, the Los Angeles quartet couldn’t be more different. They appear to be enjoying themselves and the playing is tight, with a considered running order that develops from gothic ethereality to dark disco.
That set list is a microcosm of their musical evolution in 75 minutes. But, whether playing early track Undertow, with its nods to ’80s dream-pop or No Way Out, which captures the atmospherics of The xx with its reliance on minimal drum pads, their core identity remains intact.
It’s largely defined by guitarists Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman regularly sharing dual vocals, with bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg joining on harmonies on the likes of opening number Heads Up. The paired vocals create a flat, whispering unease around which their instruments spider under the weight of FX pedals.
The haunting ephemerality of the guitar lines is rooted by the rhythm section, with Stella Mozgawa’s powerhouse drumming proving why she’s an in-demand session player for the likes of Kurt Vile and Cate Le Bon.
That solidity is a must, given that the gnarly arrangements constantly turn in unexpected directions, making the tracks a challenge for any dancer — to which Kokal’s awkward moves testify.
Nonetheless, it’s towards the dance floor that their songwriting has gradually moved, with recent single New Song and the Luscious Jackson-esque Disco//Very proving that they have a passing acquaintance with conventional pop structures.
But, rather than raising the venue temperature, the grooves remain as steady as the set in general.
Warpaint will play Somerset House in London on July 10.