Even if the name is still fairly unknown in wider circles, Wargirl already have a lot to their name. Their affiliation with Cold War Kids was the primary benchmarker, but multiple lineup changes and reshuffling since has resulted in a band for whom the diversity of its members is analogous to the musical sources they draw from. Their streams of singles and self-titled debut in 2018 have fulled from funk, garage-rock, soul, blues and Afrobeat, and even amongst the aforementioned lineup changes, the colour and spark of their music has remained constant, and turned Wargirl into something of an undiscovered gem. As such, the relatively quick turnaround time of Dancing Gold – arriving less than two years after its predecessor – doesn’t come as too much of surprise; Wargirl have the colour and inspiration in their sound to do a good deal with it without getting stale, and tapping into that could yield the wider appeal that they’re all too capable of pulling in.
That capability feels all the more tangible with Dancing Gold too, an album that’s bursting with flavour and personality, and finds a way to temper it in individual mediums that could have very real impacts in both a native garage-rock scene, but also in adjacent fields of indie and pop. As far as raw melodic composition goes, Wargirl have buckets of ability that handily balances out an album that can occasionally be a bit underweight, and it evens out to a really enjoyable listen with some phenomenally catchy instincts, probably the first time that can sincerely be said about a garage-rock album in a long time.
It’s not hard to see why though, given that Wargirl are less preoccupied with hunkering down big, fuzzed-out riffs, and use their time to instead explore the more lithe and outward-reaching directions this sound can pull off. That does come from pulling from some pretty recognisable touchstones – there are progressions here reminiscent of everyone from The Clash to Santana to Dusty Springfield – but it comes together remarkably well thanks to an instrumental palette that doesn’t wear itself out too easily. In just the first handful of songs, there’s the garage-blues shuffle of Drive, the honking Queens Of The Stone Age pastiche of the title track and the steamy, ridiculously cool funk-pop of 2069, all of which have connective tissue thanks to the warmer, sandy production and Samantha Parks’ excellent vocal delivery, but make it clear that Wargirl’s is a singular vision that isn’t so rigidly confined. It’s why when the glittery psychedelic organs of Echoes or the minimalist stalk of Whatcha Say come in, they don’t feel out of character even for a second. It makes it all the more impressive when Wargirl prove they can basically make a hook out of anything; sure, they’re at the best on slinkier, more charged numbers like 2069 and Whatcha Say that let Parks’ oversized vocals hit those powerful peaks, but Dancing Gold on the whole is pretty tight with not a whole lot of noticeable filler, something which makes its eclecticism go down all the smoother.
Of course, when that gets pushed forward, it does take up a lot of allocated space, and apart from the hooks and a plugged-in throughline of empowerment and finding freedom, it’s not quite a visceral listen in the most traditional sense. You can tell the shadows of figures like George Clinton or Aretha Franklin do have presence here, as genre-transcending artists who maintained that alongside a socially conscious angle, but Wargirl aren’t quite there yet. Granted, at this stage, they aren’t really expected to be (those two artists are both legends for a reason), and for what’s looking to be a more contemporary approximation of those ideas that still can infiltrate the modern scene, this is more than enough and it still manages to connect consistently well. Parks as a presence up front has the firepower to achieve that, and for an album whose sound already conveys feelings and impulses of colour or heat, that can go a long way when it comes to establishing presence without having fully carved out the precision from it.
And at the end of the day, the fact that Wargirl are looking to recharge a genre as notoriously boring as garage-rock and succeeding to this degree is worth skirting around shortcoming which, right now, aren’t that major. The growth that can be had here is noticeable, but it’s never explicit, such is the way that Dancing Gold presents itself with a degree of verve that’s difficult not to find at least some enjoyment in. It’s a summer album that’s looking to do more than what a phrase like that might delineate, and while the summer it’s going into isn’t precisely the ideal environment, Wargirl’s greater intentions for something like this are actually quite fitting, in a way. But even distanced from that, Dancing Gold really does have a lot to like, and even despite its flaws, it’s more than enough to make coming back to it a delight all the same.
For fans of: Queens Of The Stone Age, The Clash, The Black Keys
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Dancing Gold’ by Wargirl is released on 12th June on Clouds Hill.