[sic] Magazine

Wax Idols – American Tragic

American Tragic is a break-up album, but mercifully it doesn’t wallow in pity. Its excellent title conjures thoughts of Philip Roth and Grant Wood, artists both who strive/d for depth of medium. Wax Idols is Hether Fortune and she’s no surface-level artist either. Accordingly then, the “whole spectrum of grief is represented here — shock, pain, anger, loneliness, and then finding a way to work through all of that and not only survive, but thrive.” American Tragic is thus an album as much about defiance as it is hurt, as heavy on the darkwave as it is on strident pop.

Its running order rolls with the blows, too, the black-sequined grooves and low-end synth of “A Violent Transgression” sashaying like the Reaper’s cloak, while lead single, “Lonely You”, treads a very catchy line between Smiths-like melodies and sassy, stadium-sized rocking. In general though, American Tragic’s “arrangements are deliberately more minimal” than those on Fortune’s previous LP, 2013’s excellent post-punker Discipline & Desire, in order that her “songs themselves can really shine”. “Deborah”, the kohl-eyed second single, is suitably sparse for a New Wave cut, its reverbed riff hanging like dust in sunlight and its fast-tempo snares undercut with more bottom-end synth. Fortune stamps her authority on the track, too, with a killer spoken-word aside before launching into the final bridge and chorus.

For every high there is a low, however, as these pop songs are precariously balanced with Fortune’s continuing struggle with anxiety and depression. In a recent interview she declared: “A lot of people have these issues and they just kind of swallow it and keep it inside and don’t talk about it. That’s what I did for years and then it resulted in me having a nervous breakdown.” Happily, Fortune is in a better place now and she has advice for those like herself. “Find the right therapist. Start journaling all of your thoughts.” Coming off the back of touring with [sic]’s 2014 album of the year winners White Lung, she also clearly found comfort transcribing these thoughts into writing American Tragic.

As documented in the aptly titled Discipline & Desire, she’s previously also processed trauma while exploring subversion and empowerment via sexual dynamics, going so far as to gain employment for a while as a dominatrix. Right on cue, she coyly sings “This is a wicked world / I am a wicked girl” on the drizzling and downbeat “I’m Not Going”, her shy shimmer developing into a lung-busting howl as she stands head held high in the “hard rain that’s gonna fall”. Far from vulnerable then, she wrote everything on American Tragic in order to show her full control. She recorded it all as well, save for Rachel Travers’ tight drums (which often come on like The Cult’s own programmes), taking co-production credits once more too, this time with Monte Vallier (Weekend, The Soft Moon).

Discipline & Desire’s co-producer on the other hand was Mark Burgess of The Chameleons and, good job that he did, the album’s jagged edges were often smeared out to indistinction as a result. Compare some of its rare lesser moments to a protest track like “Goodbye Baby” here (which ought really to be sub-titled “I’ve had enough”). Sharper production lets the track’s message be heard loud and clear, so much so an odd choral line is totally forgiven when the steely drums and a stabbing synth part robbed from The Cure kick in, distortion adding a delicious crackle to the intensity.

Side B is let down, however, by a confused run of three tracks that constitute a third of American Tragic’s total. The nothingy “Severely Yours” simply doesn’t have the required bite, while upbeat synth-popper “At Any Moment” seems out of place, despite its morose lyrics. The same can be levelled at “Glisten” as, even though it’s an interesting idea well executed, it does away with guitar almost completely, relying on a squelchy beat and compressed percussion, which when combined with Fortune’s disinterested vocal, lends the track a surprising and dark Italo vibe.

Although Fortune may lose her way a little on the flip we should be grateful she’s able to table an album of this quality at all. What’s evident though is that, despite her own misgivings, she’s further along the curve than she thinks. Having endured “shock, pain, anger [and] loneliness” her cathartic American Tragic stands as period of frayed acceptance. Life has its ups and downs and so does American Tragic. And that’s what makes both of them so compelling.

Best track: “Goodbye Baby”

[sic] review: Wax Idols – Discipline & Desire

~American Tragic will be released October 16th 2015 via Collect Records.~